comscore 2022 Election: Z. Kaapana Aki | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

2022 Election: Z. Kaapana Aki

  • Zuri Aki
Name on ballot:

Z. Kaapana Aki

Running for:

OHA At-Large Trustee

Political party:

No answer submitted

Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Public Policy Advocate



Previous job history:

Public Policy Advocate (Office of Hawaiian Affairs), OHA Trustee Aide, Public Policy Manager (Council For Native Hawaiian Advancement), Board Chair Apoakea Native Hawaiian Innovation Institute

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

I have well-over a decade of expertise in serving the Native Hawaiian community and I have worked for organizations in critical roles at the forefront of addressing local, state, and federal socio-political-economic issues. I have worked for organizations like the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, where my job responsibilities included advising OHA administration and OHA trustees. I am intimately familiar the issues affecting the Native Hawaiian people, the strengths and weaknesses of OHA, and with solutions that serve OHA’s mission for the betterment of conditions for Native Hawaiians. I also know how OHA can play a critical role in Hawaii’s advancement for the benefit of all who call Hawaii, home. I have a BA in Hawaiian Studies and a Juris Doctor (JD).

What will be your top priority if elected?

My top priority will be to maneuver OHA in the direction of generating more income independent of the ‘ceded lands’ revenue. With more revenue, OHA can endeavor large-scale economic development, creating economic opportunities for the people of Hawaii. The financial crisis is hurting a lot of families and we need more money to keep us afloat – OHA has the potential to do this.

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

OHA needs to further diversify its source of revenue. OHA needs to make more money. while not being so predominantly reliant on capped revenue from ‘ceded lands.’ With that said, OHA will need to responsibly monetize its real estate holdings and develop a framework for seeding startups, acquiring equity, and ultimately profiting from the return on investment to re-invest in more startups.

What should OHA do to help alleviate homelessness and increase home ownership among Native Hawaiians?

OHA has the potential to substantively impact the housing crisis to the degree that it could effectively wipe out Native Hawaiian homelessness and ensure complete Native Hawaiian homeownership. It would be no easy feat, but, it is entirely possible. OHA can maneuver in this direction through effective advocacy for the adoption of a legal framework for the development of Native Hawaiian housing/communities; acquiring real estate for the purpose of developing adequate and appropriate master-planned communities; engaging in the necessary public-private partnerships to develop these communities; and provide/facilitate a means by which Native Hawaiians may actively be informed and participate in this endeavor. Keep in mind that OHA’s potential here can also be leveraged for housing, generally, and benefit all of the people of Hawaii.

What reforms, if any, would you propose to make OHA more transparent to the public?

In my experience as an OHA employee, I have gained an effective degree of insight as to the character of OHA’s transparency. In more modern times, OHA has become very transparent. OHA’s board operates under the Sunshine Law (HRS Chapter 92), the organization frequently updates its website/social media and produces newsletters, while also publishing a monthly newspaper (Ka Wai Ola). NO OTHER state agency provides this level of transparency. That is not to say, however, that OHA cannot be more transparent. OHA could develop or partner with a private organization(s) to have journalists assigned to the agency for the purpose of reporting on its activities – something similar to the White House press corps. This kind of feature need not be invasive and could actually serve the additional purpose of developing a work force development pipeline for our youth in journalism/photography/etc.

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?

I support responsible scientific and astrological development on Maunakea. I also support responsible development projects that provide much needed jobs to our laborers, while also bringing much-desired and appropriate economic opportunities to our communities; especially our rural communities. I do not know the current status of the Thirty Meter Telescope, so I cannot give or withhold my support for the project at this time. Here in Hawaii, we have seen – all too often – problems associated with elected officials blindly supporting a major construction project without first doing their due diligence in knowing everything they should know about it, transparently informing the community about it, and considering all viable alternatives. OHA’s purpose is the betterment of conditions for Native Hawaiians – it’s role should be to facilitate discussions for more informed decisionmaking by Native Hawaiians, the public, and public officials. There are Native Hawaiians who support the TMT project and there are those who oppose. OHA has also been in support of the TMT project and it has also opposed the project. What OHA has not done, is adequately and effectively provide space for Native Hawaiians to discuss, educate, and inform about this issue – on the facts. OHA should be doing that.

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?

We need more money. The people of Hawaii are enduring a very long financial crisis. This crisis has been ongoing for longer than most of our long-time resident workforce has been working – and the burden only seems to be getting worse. The financial crisis worsens the housing crisis, the homelessness crisis, crime/corruption, and we have an ever-worsening climate crisis bearing down upon us. OHA has the potential to put more money into the pockets of Hawaii residents – not just Native Hawaiians, but all people who call Hawaii, home. OHA can do this by leveraging its assets and resources to build and diversify our economy. OHA can invest millions into workforce development, developing economic sectors (creating jobs and other economic opportunities), developing communities (housing) to alleviate the high cost burden on housing (rent and mortgage), establish a rehabilitative lending process with low or no interest over longer terms at very low payments, and inspire and encourage local entrepreneurship. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

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

I am the candidate that will bring sweeping beneficial change to OHA and to the state of Hawaii for the benefit of all good people who call Hawaii, home. I have the will and the expertise to bring this much-needed change. Get me to that board table and I promise you, I will make OHA work for us.

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.
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