comscore 2020 Election: Kamealoha Smith | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

2020 Election: Kamealoha Smith

  • Kamealoha Smith
Name on ballot:

Kamealoha Smith

Running for:

OHA Kauai Resident Trustee

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Non-Profit Program Administrator/Outreach Education Specialist



Previous job history:

Public/Charter School Educator

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I am Kamealoha Smith, a Native Hawaiian from Anahola, Kauai and I am running for OHA Kauai-Niihau Island Seat. I hold a Master’s Degree in Second Language Teaching with a focus in Japanese from UH Manoa and a Professional Teaching Diploma in Education with a focus in Hawaiian Knowledge from Halau Wanana. I offer my 25 years of experience as an Outreach Educator and Program Administrator in nonprofit.

During times of emergencies, like the CV19 I’ve been called upon as a non-profit program administrator to locally coordinate meal programs, develop programs for our houseless population, create educational programs for keiki, and develop projects focused on building the capacity and resilience of our communities to be self-reliant. I am humbled to work in my community: passing out meals, connecting people to essential services, providing opportunity for fellowship, & taking time to listen about the concerns and needs of others.

If elected, I plan to bring to OHA this same level of commitment, integrity, and no-nonsense grassroots approach to solving problems in our community and the larger Hawaii Community.

What will be your top priority if elected?

I consider addressing the findings of the 2019 CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA) audit a top priority. I, like many beneficiaries, have many concerns and there are serious questions about the audit that have gone unanswered. I do not want OHA to downplay the findings of the audit. Further, I do not want OHA Trustee’s to sweep the findings of the audit under the rug. Moving forward at OHA starts with “cleaning house” and “cleaning house” starts with addressing all the recommendations in the audit & if necessary, completing a forensic audit. By addressing the recommendations in the audit, in an honest & transparent manner, OHA will be able to start rebuilding trust with the community; making it easier to address other pressing needs in the Hawaiian Community. Right now, there is a dark cloud hanging over OHA’s head and it has been there for the past 4 years (some say even longer) without any resolution and closure. OHA must do better!

What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent and what can the Office of Hawaiian Affairs do to address that need?

There are many needs currently not being met by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. However of the many issues, I believe that affordable housing, unemployment, & food security are top priorities.

First, affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues facing Native Hawaiians. It is an issue that many residents, both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians face. There are not enough affordable housing units in Hawaii. The immediate strategy is to address the issue of building more affordable housing. OHA needs to work with the local government, the state, and federal government to review current programs to assess whether the current programs are appropriate to pursue building affordable housing for Hawaiians not eligible for DHHL programs.

If elected, I would work with the community to review current strategies to address immediate needs and develop new strategies to address the current housing crisis. I would use OHA lands and monies to build infrastructure and affordable homes for all Hawaiian families (without regard to blood quantum) who meet income qualifications.

Second, Unemployment & underemployment are a huge issue that creates challenges for Hawaiian families to make the kind of monies they need to make a living. OHA missed out an opportunity to be a part of the State Covid 19 Economic response team. OHA must not continue to be a passive player in developing new industries that help diversify our states economy. OHA in partnership with the Hawaiian Community & others must take a leading role in developing jobs in Renewable Energy, Natural/Cultural Resource Management, Ocean Resource Management, Rebranding of Tourism, Agriculture, and the Sciences.

Third, Food Sovereignty/Security: As Covid 19 revealed, accessing healthy food is a challenge for Native Hawaiian families and children. Simply put, good health is out of reach for many Hawaiian families because they lack healthy food choices and a nutritious food selection. To increase access to nutritious and healthy food, to improve the health of our people, and strengthen food security, I believe OHA needs to work with community to provide the financial and technical support needed to increase management of native agriculture and food systems.

What is one specific change you would like to see in OHA’s operations and what would you do to make it happen?

Many see OHA as a huge bureaucracy that has lost its connection to the community. Political infighting is common and OHA is currently embroiled in state/federal investigations. Public perception is everything and right now, OHA has a public perception problem that is hampering the agency from fulfilling its trust obligations. OHA must do better!

To combat these perceptions, as a trustee, a top priority would be to work to increase transparency, accountability, & ensure the agency provides fair & equal access to all services. It would be great to gain back some trust from the community and great to reimagine OHA as the agency it was intended to be 40 years ago; an agency that inspires hope for a better life for beneficiaries.

Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and what should OHA’s role be in the process?

The issues involving TMT should not be viewed as a pro or con question. Given the on-going litigation that OHA has with the state and the university, it would be difficult to provide a definitive answer at this time. It is my understanding that the TMT budget has expanded, CV19 has impacted all countries involved in the construction of the TMT, and there are other issues that need to be resolved. If elected, I would be open to entertaining a proposal from both sides. All proposals for pono management of Mauna Kea are welcome.

I would also propose that OHA establish a Mauna Kea Sub Committee. This Committee would be required to post their meetings and follow board rules. Meetings would be open to beneficiaries on all islands. I would volunteer to sit as a member of the not committee. However, as a Trustee representing Kauai/Niihau it would be inappropriate to chair any proposed Mauna Kea Sub Committee. Should CV19 continue, OHA should use technology to skype participants in, from the neighbor islands, especially beneficiaries from Hawaii Island to insure maximum participation in all meetings.

We should view all issues like the TMT at Mauna Kea as an opportunity to bring the community together. What I appreciate about what is going on in the movement, is that I see people from both sides prepared with answers that reflect their deep commitment to preserving & perpetuating Hawaiian language, culture, history, self-determination, and self-identity. I do not believe there has been a single issue in recent times, where so many in the lahui have been galvanized to rally.

We, in Hawaii, are charged with creating a pono management plan for Mauna Kea that accommodates traditional and modern world views of science, culture, the economy, religion, language, and history. I believe we owe it to ourselves to come together as a lahui to have a respectful dialogue and be tolerant of other views.

As a Native Hawaiian Educator, I feel I have the appropriate skill set and experience to bring people together to sit, dialogue and come up with a solution. I offer my 25 years of community organizing and advocacy as a testament to my commitment to my community to work with everyone to move the lahui forward on this issue.

What is OHA’s role in easing the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in prisons?

I believe Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prisons and jails. In many cases, this is linked to an individual’s socio-economic circumstances. There are many who live in poverty. Poverty as defined by individuals who are either unemployed or underemployed, who lack adequate housing, have low educational attainment and expectations, who have chemical dependency issues, and those who live with mental illness. In Hawaii’s case, I also believe that some of this is linked to historical trauma due to the overthrow of 1893. I do not believe it is a coincidence that criminal and prison statistics in the Native Hawaiian community are similar to other native communities around America and the world. We all share a common history.

As an OHA Trustee, I would make this issue a priority. I would put resources into diversion, prevention, rehabilitation, mental health, employment & training, financial literacy, life skills, and other appropriate outreach programs that provide services that can be effective in decreasing the number of Hawaiians in prisons and jails. Second, I would also commit to reaching out to agencies to address long standing institutional biases in the criminal justice system.

Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?

I felt compelled to run because of the many issues my community and the larger community’s on Kauai are facing due to CV19. Small businesses have closed, people have lost their jobs, & homelessness has increased. What is happening on Kauai is happening all over Hawaii. We need solutions!

It is difficult for OHA to address these issues when there is minimal communication between OHA and the community, when we see political infighting at board meetings, and when there are articles in the media about state & federal investigations. OHA has a public perception problem.

OHA needs bold new leadership for the Islands of Kauai-Niihau; a leader who has the courage to “clean house” at OHA, a leader who is committed to work with everyone in the community, and a leader who has innovative ideas to move our community, the larger island community, and Hawaii forward. I feel I am that candidate who has the experience, qualifications, & passion to work with the community to pull us through these uncertain times.

I humbly ask that you vote Kamealoha Smith as your next OHA Kauai-Niihau Island Trustee. Please come on this journey with me to take the canoe in a new direction! Hiki no a lanakila! (Together we can!)

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2020 Hawaii elections coverage.
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