Kalei Akaka, granddaughter of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, led handily Tuesday in the race for the open Oahu seat on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees, while embattled at-large incumbent Rowena Akana was trailing in her re-election bid.
Akaka, a Kamehameha Schools employee, was well in front of Esther Kia‘aina, a veteran state and federal government official who worked for Daniel Akaka as a legislative assistant during the 1990s.
Incumbents John Waihee IV and Lei Ahu Isa were the top two vote-getters in the at-large voting, followed by ‘Aha Hawaiian constitutional convention chairman Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee. The top three at-large candidates will join the seven-member OHA board.
Lee, who trailed early, edged in front of former state Land Board Chairman William Aila late into the night. Akana was fifth, followed by former state Rep. Faye Hanohano of Hawaii island.
Incumbent Carmen Hulu Lindsey was comfortably ahead of Native Hawaiian activist Ke‘eaumoku Kapu for the Maui-resident seat.
Akana, the longest- serving OHA trustee at 28 years, was facing ethics charges ranging from accepting a $72,000 cash gift to help pay for legal fees to using her trustee allowance to buy home cable television services, a Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club membership and an Apple iTunes gift card.
Akana, who has denied any wrongdoing, said the ethics charges were part of a campaign by her OHA rivals to boot her out of office. And the timing of the state Ethics Commission contested case hearing late last month, she said, was a deliberate attempt to keep her from campaigning for office and to muddy her reputation right before the election.
The winner of the race for the Oahu seat will replace veteran OHA trustee Peter Apo, who stepped down from the board following a rough year in which he admitted to ethics violations and paid a $25,000 penalty. OHA also settled a sexual harassment claim against Apo with a $50,000 payout.
Akaka, who works in the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama middle school staff administration, said her positive message of aloha and unity resonated with the voters.
“I just got so much positive feedback during the campaign,” she said Tuesday night. “There is so much potential to work for partnerships with city, state and federal governments and private organizations.”
Kia‘aina, executive director of the Pacific Basin Development Council, worked as assistant secretary of the interior for President Barack Obama and was deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources under former Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
With only two candidates vying for the Maui-resident seat this year, this was the first time Lindsey and Kapu of West Maui were facing off against each other.
The OHA board also came under negative scrutiny when it was criticized by the state auditor for allowing inappropriate spending. It is also reportedly the target of investigations by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state Attorney General’s Office.
A February report by the auditor described out-of-control discretionary spending over a two-year period due to vague rules that are broadly interpreted, arbitrarily enforced and sometimes ignored.
The report prompted trustees to established moratoriums on three OHA spending categories, including the $22,200 personal allowance provided to each trustee.
During the campaign, Akaka, Kia‘aina and other challengers campaigned on restoring trust at OHA. Akaka said the audit demanded an update of policies and practices, and Kia‘aina called for an overhaul of OHA’s spending habits and oversight.
For full Honolulu Star-Advertiser coverage of the 2018 general election, go to 808ne.ws/SA2018VOTE.
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