By: OHA TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: September 2004 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
`Ano`ai kakou… Before you head to the ballot box in the coming elections, I’d like to share with you two experiences I had in the past legislative session.
One of the bills that I really pushed hard for at the legislature this past session was Senate Bill 2759, relating to Kuleana Lands. Many Hawaiian families who have been caring for their Kuleana Lands for generations face the loss of their legacy as well as the potential for homelessness because mainland and foreign entities are building luxury homes and shopping malls on the adjacent property. This causes their property value and taxes to skyrocket. Things are getting so bad that a family has asked OHA to take custody of their Kuleana Lands until they were able to save up enough money to pay off their back taxes.
SB 2759 passed all of its Senate committees and looked set to crossover to the House when it was abruptly “recommitted” or sent back to its original Senate committee. In all my years of lobbying the legislature, I have never heard of a bill being killed in this fashion. I later learned that an attorney for the County of Hawaii called the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and got the bill killed. In the mean time, Hawaiian families on Kuleana Lands continue to suffer.
On April 1, 2004, Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support Governor Linda Lingle’s proposals to reform the public education system in Hawaii. The Board took this position because of OHA’s constitutional mandate to work for the betterment of the conditions for Native Hawaiians and the findings in Kamehameha School’s PASE (Policy Analysis and System Evaluation) Report.
The PASE Report found that rather than helping underprivileged students, the current system has compounded social and economic disadvantages through its unequal distribution of educational and teaching resources. A large number of underprivileged children are not getting the help they need. As a result, Hawaiian children are too often deprived of opportunities for intellectual engagement, social growth, and other aspects of a quality education that provide the keys to lifetime opportunities and fulfillment.
With local school boards, the Hawaiian community will have a more direct say in how educational opportunities are provided to Hawaiian students. We could also develop culturally appropriate learning models that will allow Hawaiian students to achieve greater success.
Most people know that OHA is a non-partisan entity. The Trustees would never support the Governor’s proposal based on politics. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state legislature didn’t see it this way.
In an April 2, 2004 Advertiser article, Sen. Norman Sakamoto, D-15th (Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake), questioned whether OHA Trustees even understood the Governor’s proposal and joked about creating more than one Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Our Board Chairman sent a letter to the editor (Advertiser, April 16, 2004) clearly explaining that OHA took its position for the educational welfare of Hawaiian children and not for political reasons. But that explanation wasn’t good enough for the House Democrats. They wanted payback.
OHA introduced Senate Bill 1155 to help Trustees receive proper service credit for retirement purposes. The bill seemed all set to pass out of the House Finance committee. Then, shortly after OHA took its position supporting the Governor’s plan for educational reform, the bill suddenly died. Coincidence? Not a chance. The Committee chose to punish the Trustees for supporting the Governor’s position on local school boards.
I encourage everyone to carefully consider the candidates’ stand on issues important to the Hawaiian community. It’s time to help our friends and “crush” our enemies, regardless of their political affiliation. We must collectively show all elected officials that Hawaiian votes count by making our voices heard! Imua e Hawai’i nei…