After the Big Island’s second seat on the Hawaiian Homes Commission sat vacant for more than a year, Gov. David Ige’s pick to fill that post has encountered resistance in the state Senate.
Three other Hawaiian Homes nominees for other islands unanimously cleared the Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs and then the full Senate last month, while the confirmation of Michael Kaleikini for the East Hawaii seat was put on hold. Hawaii Island has the largest percentage of Native Hawaiians in its population of the state, according to 2019 census estimates.
The committee plans to take up the nomination again at a meeting at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
At issue for the committee were 11 testifiers opposing the nomination, including members of the Keaukaha Panaewa Farmers Association, representing 285 agricultural lessees on 1,615 acres of Department of Hawaiian Home Lands trust land. Twenty-one testifiers, including several representing local business groups, supported the nomination.
Hawaiian Affairs Committee Vice Chairman Kai Kahele, a Hilo Democrat, said Friday the committee postponed confirmation to give Kaleikini an opportunity to meet with community members.
“I’m looking forward to his hearing next week,” Kahele said. “We received a lot of testimony on both sides.”
Among those submitting testimony in favor of Kaleikini were several members of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, as well as representatives of the Hawaii Island Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference and the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce.
“He is a role model and leader on Hawaii Island and we are truly grateful to have him in our community,” said Kirstin Kahaloa, president of the Hawaii Island Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce. “We highly support this nomination and hope that you will too.”
Kaleikini is currently senior director of Puna Geothermal Venture, where he’s worked since 1991. That position, coupled with his position on the executive committee of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board that backed a rocket launch facility on land near homesteads, has garnered some opposition.
“Once again, Governor Ige and his administration has selected someone to sit in the East Hawaii commissioner seat who will represent political and business interests focused (on) transferring DHHL trust lands and generating revenue on the backs of Native Hawaiian DHHL current and future beneficiaries,” said Maile Lu‘uwai, president of the Keaukaha Panaewa Farmers Association. “We would rather have no one in the seat than someone who is detrimental to the DHHL trust and beneficiary interests.”
Kaleikini said he held a meeting with community members and offered to continuing meeting the various groups with commission updates, but the coronavirus pandemic has hampered some of those plans.
“It was a good meeting; people asked questions and asked about me … about PGV … the chambers, etc.,” Kaleikini said Friday. “There were folks at the meeting who said straight up they would not support my confirmation. … I appreciate them for being upfront.”
Still, he said, he’s hoping he will be confirmed.
“If the Senate does not confirm me, so be it. I will accept that,” Kaleikini said. “If confirmed, I will do my best to represent them on the Hawaiian Homes Commission.”