Three vie for seat on OHA board



Tribune-Herald staff writer

Robert K. Lindsey Jr. will face a pair of challengers for his seat on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees.

Lindsey, from Waimea, has represented the Island of Hawaii on the OHA board since appointed to fill the seat vacated by the late Linda Dela Cruz in 2007. In 2008, he was elected to a full four-year term in a race against one of his two opponents in the Nov. 6 general election.

William “Willy” Meyers, who maintains a Papaikou address but lives at Kings Landing in Keaukaha, won 21 percent of the vote in 2008 but fell short of Lindsey’s 33 percent (46 percent of the ballots were blank). This year marks Meyers’ fourth campaign for the seat, he said. Also in the race is Edwin L. Miranda of Hilo, who could not be reached for this article.

OHA’s nine elected trustees set policy and manage the agency’s lands held in trust for Native Hawaiians. The trustees meet regularly at the agency’s headquarters in Honolulu, and at least once a year on each of the major islands. Trustees are elected by all voters whether Hawaiian or not. Four of the nine seats are elected at-large; the other five trustees must reside in one the following districts: Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai, Oahu, and Kauai and Niihau. Trustees serve four-year terms with no term limits.

Five of nine OHA trustees will be newly elected this November, including an at-large candidate and one each from the Molokai, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island districts.

Lindsey, 64, served served in the Hawaii state House of Representative in 1984-86, and he retired from Kamehameha Schools in 2004 before appointed to the OHA board.

Meyers, 62, said he objects to the process of voting for OHA trustees, starting with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Rice v. Cayetano, which led to the opening of OHA trustee elections toparticiaption among all Hawaii voters, Hawaiian or not. That decision “disempowered Hawaiians,” Meyers said. Low-income candidates like Meyers also don’t have the funds to campaign statewide and to attend important candidate forums that are held in Honolulu or other Neighbor Islands, he said.

A retired mental health technician, Meyers would focus on the beneficiaries of the trust, on protecting the trust’s assets, and helping Native Hawaiians especially in the areas of health and education if elected. He would put vocational schools in the Kakaako buildings on Oahu that were recently acquired by OHA in a settlement over ceded lands, with culinary schools in the restaurants where he used to watch the wealthy dine as a young boy growing up in Honolulu. “It was a big deal when I was a kid,” he said.

Native Hawaiian beneficiaries have waited many years for what’s due them in many cases, said Meyers, and many are still waiting. “How can I benefit the beneficiaries and overcome the obstacles?”

Meyers campaigns mostly via YouTube videos because he can’t afford anything else. OHA trustees receive a salary of $32,000 a year; the chairperson receives $37,000.

Lindsey, meanwhile, enjoys the benefits of being “in the limelight of politics over the years. He doesn’t dispute his advantage as an incumbent, but said he’s also worked hard to obtain that advantage. “I’m a known quantity. My involvement in the community has been extensive. Being on the board of about 15 non-profits gives me a tremendous advantage,” he said.

Lindsey said OHA is at a “crossroads … now that we’ve achieved state recognition” He expects OHA to be convening a statewide convention as it “morphs into another organization within the next five years. “I think it will be beneficial,” he said. “It will be an inclusive process. Every group will have a seat at the table. Everyone will have a voice.”

At the micro level, Lindsey said more pressing issues include the basics of housing, education and health. “We continue to partner with others to try to resolve these issues. We are doing the best we can.

“Much of what needs to happen needs to occur at the community level,” said Lindsey. He cited partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, for which he also serves as a board member, in building self-help housing for native Hawaiian beneficiaries. “We’ve been able to give people safe and decent homes” in Kawaihe and Kealakehe.

Lindsey also noted DHHL’s role in establishing the Native Hawaiian Health Care System, including a main office in Hilo, satellite offices in Pahoa, Na`alehu, Captain Cook and Waimea, and partnerships with charter schools to provide Hawaiian language and culture-based education programs. “I am very engaged in supportingtheir efforts,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey said he supports programs that encourage economic self sufficiency among Native Hawaiians, “looking at the world through a business lens, to do more for themselves and be less dependent on government. He cited the Makuu Farmers Market near Pahoa as a model for Native Hawaiian development.”

“I feel that as a state, and as Hawaiians we’re at a good place,” Lindsey said. “There’s more effort across the state, more people with the attitude that we’re not going to wait for OHA, or DHHL … we’re going to do for ourselves to lift capacity and help our people.”