(BIVN) – The governor’s nominee for the East Hawaiʻi seat on the Hawaiian Homes Commission went before the State Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs for a confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
The committee voted to advise and consent to the nomination of Mike Kaleikini, who is the Senior Director of Hawaiʻi Affairs for Ormat’s Puna Geothermal Venture and a participating member of several business organizations and chambers of commerce. If confirmed, he will serve a term to expire on June 30, 2021.
The previous East Hawaiʻi commissioner was Wally Ishibashi. After his term ended, the seat remained vacant for months.
Kaleikini attended the meeting via Zoom from his home in Waiakea, where the sound of crowing roosters permeated the video stream.
Kaleikini said he has been interim commissioner for six months, and has “attended several meetings – in-person – the first three months, and then the following three months, of course, the COVID situation popped up, and it’s been a little bit more challenging. But I am really looking forward to serve if confirmed,” he said.
There was testimony for and against the nomination. “At this critical time in our history, Mike is the right person at the right time,” wrote Richard Ha, who echoed the support expressed by various island chambers of commerce.
Many beneficiaries from the Keaukaha Panaʻewa Farmers Association, Kūpuna for the Moʻopuna, and the Keaukaha Community Association opposed the nomination.
“Mr. Kaleikini’s public record does not reflect any type of work or advocacy for HHCA beneficiaries,” stated Keaukaha Community Association president Patrick Kahawaiolaʻa. “Rather, his record reflects advocacy and alignment with private business interests. Accordingly, we are duly concerned that, in light of his business background, he will be inclined to advance these interests at the expense of HHCA beneficiary interests.”
“In particular, the Hawaiian Homes Commission’s public meeting minutes for October 2019 reflect that the East Hawai‘i commissioner position was vacant, yet surprisingly, and without any meaningful public notice, the meeting minutes for the December 2019 reflect Mr. Kaleikini suddenly acting in that commissioner’s position, and apparently voting on matters before the Commission,” Kahawaiolaʻa added.
Kahawaiolaʻa noted that “East Hawai‘i leadership established an open and fair community application and selection process for the East Hawai‘i Hawaiian Homes Commissioner seat,” which Kaleikini did not participate in. Out of that process, Kahawaiolaʻa said four candidates were recommended for review: Patrick Aiona, Edward Halealoha Ayau, Ka‘akapua Swain and Robert Yamada.
The nomination process that brought Kaleikini before the Hawaiian Affairs committee didn’t sit well with Senator Kurt Fevella, either. “I have nothing against this gentleman,” Sen. Fevella said. “He’d probably be a good person to serve,” but because of how the selection process was handled, Fevella said he cannot support it.
However, Kaleikini had the support of Hilo State Senator and committee vice chair Kai Kahele. “I would encourage the nominee to be the best East Hawaiʻi Commissioner that you can possibly be,” said Kahele before casting his vote to advise and consent to the nomination.
“You should hold the chair and the administration accountable when you see or hear things that are not being done,” Kahele told Kaleikini. “You should take the time to meet with your beneficiaries and those homestead associations every single month. You should be proactive and reach out to them, rather than them having to reach out to you. Attend as many of those local meetings as you can, and fight so that they can get on the agenda, so that they can have their voices heard.”
“I would also encourage the governor, if he is watching this, to engage the homestead associations across this state. Allow them to be part of the process to select and vet Hawaiian homestead commissioners,” Kahele said, “but that’s not the legislation we have in front of us today and that’s not the role that this committee has been asked to play today.”