Native Hawaiian candidates cruise to November

Kaiali’i “Kai” Kahele attends the Kailua Parade in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Kai Kahele campaign website)

Dalton Walker

Update: Kaiali’i “Kai” Kahele captured 66 percent of the vote in his Democratic primary Saturday and is expected to win in the general. #NativeVote20

Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

An open U.S. House seat will have three Native Hawaiian candidates on the general election ballot, with one being a Democratic front-runner in heavily blue Hawaii.

Kaiali’i “Kai” Kahele captured 66 percent of the vote Saturday in a Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers suburban Honolulu and the state’s more rural islands.

Republican candidate Joe Akana beat out eight other GOP challengers with nearly 39 percent of the vote. The third Native Hawaiian candidate, Jonathan Hoomanawanui, is a member of the newly formed Aloha ‘Aina Party and ran unopposed Saturday.

A November win by Kahele, Akana or Hoomanawanui would give the state its second Native Hawaiian in Congress since statehood. The first was the late Sen. Daniel Akaka, who left office in 2013.

Akana and Hoomanawanui each have a tall task in front of them come November. On Saturday, Kahela received 95,353 votes to Akana’s 13,632 and Hoomanawanui’s 3,055, according to the state election office.

The seat was left open by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who decided not to seek reelection.

In a statement, Kahele thanked his supporters for sticking with him while he was off the campaign trail and serving in the Hawaii Air National Guard’s COVID-19 response.

“If I am elected to Congress, I will diligently work with our congressional delegates and leaders to address the unprecedented challenges our communities face and bring Hawaii the resources we need to recover,” he said. “We will get through this — together.”

With Saturday’s election, Hawaii became the fifth state to conduct an election entirely by mail after the state enacted a vote-by-mail law last year. Voters have also had the option to cast ballots in person at a handful voter service centers over the past two weeks. But the overwhelming majority used mail, according to The Associated Press, and likely boosted turnout. Election officials reported they received some 380,000 ballots, compared with 286,180 ballots in 2018 and 252,725 in 2016.

In a close race for a state House seat involving two Native Hawaiians, Democrat Lynn Decoite defeated Walter Ritte. Decoite, an incumbent, received 3,243 votes to Ritte’s 3,152 votes. 

Jacob Aki finished second in Honolulu City Council District 7 race and moves on to the general election runoff. 

Only one of the four open Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee board seats had an outright winner. The other three races will have a runoff in the general election.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs sets policy and oversees a multimillion-dollar trust dedicated to improving Native Hawaiians’ well-being.

A Native Hawaiian incumbent, Dan Ahuna, received enough votes to win the Kauai trustee seat.

In an 11-person race for the Hawaii trustee seat, two other Native Hawaiians, Keola Lindsey and Lanakila Mangauil, received the most votes and will face each other in November.

“We made it to the general elections!” Mangauil posted on Facebook. “Nui ke aloha ame ka mahalo nui to all the candidates who stepped forward to offer their service to the lāhui.

Mahalo to all who voted for me and I look forward to continuing this campaign uniting Hawai'i in Pono!”

Keli’i Akina, incumbent, and Keoni Souza received the most votes in the at-large seat race and moved on to the general election. Luana Alapa received the most votes for the Molokai trustee seat and will face second-place finisher and incumbent Colette Machado in November.

In all, 24 candidates ran for the four seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

A look at Hawaii primary races with Native candidates:

  • WON: Kaialiʻi “Kai” Kahele, U.S. House, District 2
  • WON: Joe Akana, U.S. House, District 2
  • WON: Jonathan Hoomanawanui, U.S. House District 2
  • WON: Lynn Decoite, State House, District 13
  • Walter Ritte, State House, District 13
  • WON: Ty Cullen, State House, District 39
  • RUNOFF: Jacob Aki, Honolulu Council, District 7
  • Kalani Kalima, Honolulu Council, District 3
  • Kauilani Almeida, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • Noelani Cashman-Aiu, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • Laura Desoto-McCollough, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • Louis Hao, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • Cyd Hoffeld, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • Pua Ishibashi, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • Lei Kihoi, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaiii
  • RUNOFF: Keola Lindsey, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • RUNOFF: Lanakila Mangauil, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • Louis Pau, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Hawaii
  • RUNOFF: Luana Alapa, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Molokai
  • U’i Kahue-Cabanting, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Molokai
  • RUNOFF: Colette Machado, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Molokai
  • WON: Dan Ahuna, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Kauai
  • Brittny Perez, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Kauai
  • Kamealoha Smith, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, Kauai
  • RUNOFF: Keli’i Akina, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, at-large
  • Jackie Burke, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, at-large
  • Kaipo Hanakahi, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, at-large
  • Larry Kawaauhau, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, at-large
  • Shane Palacat-Nelsen, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, at-large
  • Lenson Sonoda, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, at-large
  • RUNOFF: Keoni Souza, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Board of Trustees, at-large

Update: This story has been updated to include Honolulu City Council candidate Jacob Aki. 

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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