By Mike Yuen
May 16, 1991
Source Star Bulletin
A trustee of the semiautonomous Office of Hawaiian Affairs has made overtures to Republican legislators for help in finding candidates to seriously challenge Democratic lawmakers seen as “anti-Hawaiian.”
OHA at-large trustee Rowena Akana, a Democrat, cited House Speaker Joe Souki (D, Wailuku), House Majority Leader Tom Okamura (D, Aiea), House Finance Chairman Calvin Say (D, Palolo), House Hawaiian Affairs Chairman Ed Case (D, Manoa) and freshman Rep. Kenney Goodenow (D, Waimanalo), whose district has a high percentage of native Hawaiians.
“What we saw during the legislative session this year can only be described as one of the worst assaults on Hawaiian entitlements in OHA’s 17 years,” said Akana, an organizer of the Hawaiian silent prayer vigil at the state Capitol during the past session.
She directed much of her criticism at a House-approved bill crafted by Case that would have nullified a Circuit Court ruling that expanded the definition of what was covered by the 20 percent the state owes OHA for use of ceded lands.
That provision, based on the House’s conclusion that the ruling judge misinterpreted legislative intent, was eliminated during conference negotiations at the insistence of Senate conferees. The bill approved by both chambers temporarily sets the state’s ceded-land payments at $15.1 million annually while special commission tries to resolve the dispute between the state and OHA.
Republican state Reps. Quentin Kawananakoa (Nuuanu) and Sam Aiona (Makiki), both of Hawaiian ancestry, acknowledged that Akana has had “informal discussions” with GOP lawmakers. But, they maintained, the talks have yet to reach the point of targeting any Democratic lawmaker.
The House’s 12 Republicans have closely aligned themselves with native Hawaiian concerns. Kawananakoa and Aiona said that was done because it was the right thing to do – not for strategic reasons.
Akana said she is turning to the GOP and to independents because she has yet to see Democrats back a Democratic challenger over a Democratic incumbent.
Akana stressed that while other OHA trustees are unhappy with how the Democratic-controlled Legislature acted on Hawaiian issues, her contacts with the GOP don’t reflect an official board position.
But, she added, “As a trustee, my first priority is to protect our trust. I’m not here as a Republican or a Democrat. I’m here as a nonpartisan person. When people become the enemies of this trust, whether they are Democrat or Republican, they become my enemy too.”
Akana declined to identify pro-Hawaiian candidates because there are no firm commitments.