Press Releases

Press releases by The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

Plaintiffs Ask Court to Halt Race-Based Election Immediately

Preliminary injunction filed against state’s Native Hawaiians-only nation-building The plaintiffs in the suit against the State of Hawaii and its agencies to stop the racially exclusive election and constitutional convention to establish a native Hawaiians-only nation (Keli’i Akina, et al v. The State of Hawaii, et al) have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.  The motion asks the court to put the election on hold until after a decision is reached. The group of four Native Hawaiians and two non-Native Hawaiians who brought forth the suit against the election are asking that all the groups involved—including OHA, Na’i Aupuni, and the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission—be prevented from engaging in voter registration or calling and holding elections while the case is ongoing. Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., President of the Grassroot Institute and one of the Native Hawaiian plaintiffs says, “It is imperative to stop draining public funds on a racially discriminatory process that the majority of native Hawaiians have chosen not to endorse, especially while the needs of native Hawaiians for housing, jobs, education, and health go underfunded. ” In the memorandum supporting the motion, the plaintiffs argue that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that the election violates the First Amendment, Fourth and Fifteenth Amendments, and the Voting Rights Act. They further argue that to allow the election process to move forward would cause both the plaintiffs and the citizens of the state irreparable harm, citing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that, “[a]n alleged constitutional infringement will often alone constitute irreparable harm.” Working closely with the Grassroot Institute, the case is being...

Lawsuit Challenges State-sponsored Race-based Election and Hawaiians-only Nation

Grassroot Institute and Judicial Watch Assist Native Hawaiians and non-Native Hawaiians to Speak Out HONOLULU, HAWAII–August 13, 2015–A group of four Native Hawaiians and two non-Native Hawaiians have filed suit against the State of Hawaii and subsidiary agencies to halt a racially exclusive election and constitutional convention designed to establish a sovereign Hawaiian nation. Working closely with the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, the suit was filed by non-profit watchdog group Judicial Watch, represented by former Hawaii Attorney General Michael Lilly.  Plaintiffs to the suit include native Hawaiians Keli’i Akina, president of the Grassroot Institute, Melissa Moniz, Kealii Makekau, and Pedro Gapero, as well as non-Native Hawaiians Joseph Kent and Sean Mitsui. The suit alleges that the election, sponsored by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (through a contracted organization Na’i Aupuni), using the Native Hawaiian Roll (a voter list compiled and certified by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission), violates the U.S. Constitution by pursuing a race-based and politically qualified election to establish a racially exclusive nation. The suit thus argues that the State and its agencies are in violation of the First Amendment, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs represent three categories:  1) Native Hawaiians whose names were placed on the Native Hawaiian Roll without their consent; 2) Native Hawaiians who are excluded from the Roll because they cannot in good conscience affirm the political declaration required in order to enroll; and 3) Non-Native Hawaiians who were racially discriminated against when excluded from the Roll because of race. According to Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., President of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, and a plaintiff in the...

Grassroot Institute Posts Native Hawaiian Roll Online

Court-ordered Document Available Despite Obstruction Efforts by Roll Commission HONOLULU, HAWAII–July 23, 2015–Today, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii posted the enrollment list compiled by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission (operating on behalf of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs) on its transparency website, OpenHawaii.org. Though the Roll Commission continually attempted to obstruct and withhold the list–even providing it in an unorganized and unsearchable format when finally forced to do so by a court order–it is now available to the public for download and review. Watchdog organization Judicial Watch, with the cooperation of the Grassroot Institute, first sought the list via an open records request filed last year. When the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission refused to release the list, they filed suit to compel disclosure under the state’s transparency law. Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti ordered that the list be released and set a deadline for the Commission’s compliance. The Commission waited until the deadline, then provided a list that made a farce of the state’s transparency law. Despite the fact that the document must exist in electronic format, they delivered the list on stacks of paper, arranged in no particular order–a clear attempt to thwart the public’s desire to search through and analyze the names on the Roll. Judicial Watch objected to the format that the list was delivered in, but the Commission once again proved that it has little interest in open and transparent action, refusing to send the list in electronic form, or even alphabetical order. While the Grassroot Institute attempts to find a way to create a more easily searchable list from the one provided by the Commission,...

Grassroot Institute Urges DOI to Refrain from Intruding in Native Hawaiian Affairs

Watchdog group’s comments note that Department’s proposed rule is potentially divisive HONOLULU, HAWAII–July 9, 2015–In official comments submitted to the Department of Interior (DOI), the Grassroot Institute has highlighted some of the problems in the DOI’s proposed rule regarding the Hawaiian Home Lands, noting that the rule is divisive and flies in the face of the wishes of the Native Hawaiian community. In addition, Grassroot posited that the current system has failed to further economic prosperity of Native Hawaiians, and proposed that the federal government move towards a system that would give leaseholders a private stake in their land. The proposed rule, which is related to Land Exchange Procedures and Procedures to Amend the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, includes a provision that would allow the DOI to promote “political, cultural, and social reorganization,” as part of the “rehabilitation” of Native Hawaiians envisioned by the HHCA. In its comments, the Grassroot Institute takes exception to that interpretation, pointing out that it not only exceeds the power of the agency, but also ignores the clearly expressed wishes of the Native Hawaiian people, who testified strongly against federal involvement during DOI hearings on a separate proposed rule in 2014. “Congress and Department of Interior officials have both made it clear that political reorganization of Native Hawaiians is outside of the Department’s authority,” the comments state. “On multiple occasions Congress has considered legislation that would create a path for the political organization of Native Hawaiians, an unequivocal indication that Congress has reserved to itself the power to establish a Native Hawaiian tribal entity.” The Grassroot Institute goes on to point out that pursuing political, social, or cultural...

Grassroot Institute Obtains HART Check Register

Transparency request represents important step in answering questions about Rail HONOLULU, HAWAII–June 29, 2015–While questions continue to be raised about funding and spending in the Honolulu Rail project, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has taken a step towards shining a light on the issue by obtaining the check register for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART). The records, which have been posted on OpenHawaii.org, the Grassroot Institute’s transparency website, provide an interesting overview of HART’s spending practices. A preliminary breakdown of the records obtained reveals that the vast majority of the expenses listed are related to construction, design, and land costs. That is consistent with expectations, and the high price of land acquisition and construction contracts are part of the runaway costs that many critics of the project have feared. Further examination of miscellaneous payments not related to construction, design, and land find administrative costs to be the most significant, followed by planning and insurance. “The state has a responsibility to the taxpayers to ensure that the Rail project is managed in a way that does not create an endless sinkhole of debt,” stated Dr. Keli’i Akina, President of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. “By releasing HART’s check register, we are taking an important step towards answering the many questions raised in the recent legislative session about HART’s spending and requests for further funding. Transparency is the heart of an informed electorate, and we urge all interested parties to visit the OpenHawaii.org website and review these records for themselves.” The HART check register can be viewed...

Court Orders Release of Native Hawaiian Roll

Judicial Watch and Grassroot Institute score a victory for government transparency In a victory for transparent government, a state court has ordered the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission to release its enrollment list. The suit was filed by Judicial Watch with the assistance of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii after an open records request for the Roll was repeatedly denied by the Commission. In a decision that emphasized the importance of open government, the Court rejected the Commission’s reasons for denying the request, requiring the Commission to produce the list and pay attorney’s fees in the case. Said former Hawai`i Attorney General, Michael A. Lilly, who represented Judicial Watch in the case, “Today, in a victory for open government, Judicial Watch won a case seeking a roll of over 125,000 people allegedly registered with the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission.” Keli’i Akina, President of the Grassroot Institute stated, “With the release of the Roll, it will now be possible to answer concerns over the tens of thousands of names that have been placed on the list without the express permission of individuals. The fact stands that the vast majority of Hawaiians have chosen not to support the efforts of OHA and the Native Hawaiian Roll to create a sovereign government. Their voices can now be heard. And, hopefully, OHA will stop wasting public money on its unconstitutional push for sovereignty and, instead, spend it on housing, education, employment, and health services for those in need.” “The Commission was established by the State of Hawai`i to prepare a roll of native Hawaiians,” continued Michael Lilly. “After only a handful of Hawaiians had registered with the Commission, it artificially augmented its roll with three...

Grassroot Institute Investigates Questionable Procurement by Native Hawaiian Roll

Watchdog group’s transparency efforts lead to appeal for agency oversight HONOLULU, HAWAII–April 13, 2015–A request by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for information about the expenditures of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission has led to additional questions about the Commission’s possible violation of the state procurement code.  Former Hawai`i Attorney General Michael Lilly has requested that the Directors of the Departments of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Accounting and General Services review whether the expenditure of over $800,000 on two vendors by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission without public bid violated the State’s procurement code.  Such a violation of the code is subject to possible criminal and civil penalties. The Grassroot Institute requested from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs the check register of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission as part of their ongoing government transparency effort. With the Commission’s response now made public, citizens and government observers have been stepping forward with more questions about the expenditures listed and the process behind them. In his letters sent as a private citizen to the state department directors, Michael Lilly states: Some $4 million was reportedly transferred by OHA to the NHRC. Theattached ledger summarizes payments by the NHRC to various vendors including over $600,000 to Makauila, a multimedia company … Another some $200,000 went to “1013” which is a branding company found on your web site here as “One Zero Ten Three” … None of these payments to vendors apparently complied with the procurement code, Chapter 103D. According to Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., President/CEO of Grassroot Institute, “Much of the money being spent by OHA and the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission could better be used to meet the...

Grassroot Institute Speaks in Support of Solutions for Hawaii’s Hospitals

Public policy group urges legislators to consider public-private partnerships HONOLULU, HAWAII–April 8, 2015–Today, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii spoke out in favor of exploring public-private partnerships as a solution for Hawaii’s hospitals. While offering comments on HB 1075 before the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor and the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Grassroot President Keli’i Akina, Ph.D. presented evidence of successful public-private hospital partnerships around the country. The bill, which was passed by both Committees, would allow the Maui Hospital System, “to enter into an agreement with a private entity to transition one or more of its facilities into a new private Hawaii nonprofit corporation.” Dr. Akina praised the Senators for moving forward with a model that is an important step toward solving health cost issues as well as the state’s physician shortage. “In Louisiana, $52 million a year was saved [by the state hospital system] by going into public-private partnership,” stated Dr. Akina. “The public hospital system in Concord, Texas saved $104 million. California’s Sequoia Health Care System is saving $30 million. … There’s no question about it. One of the best practices for fiscal health in a state and for meeting the needs of the people is public-private partnerships for hospitals.” Dr. Akina also emphasized that it was time to look for a permanent solution to the state’s health care crisis. “We’re not dealing with something that just costs a lot of money. We’re dealing with something that—even if you made a short term fix—cannot be fixed in the long run,” he stated. He added that a strategy that looked to furloughs or reduced pay, “would not be fair to the union...

Grassroot Institute Releases Government Data on OpenHawaii.org

OpenHawaii.org to Make Government Data Open to the Public HONOLULU, HAWAII—Mar. 12, 2015 — In response to difficulties encountered by citizens and media seeking public records, the Grassroot Institute is launching OpenHawaii.org, a site dedicated to providing access to hard to obtain government data for the purpose of holding government accountable. At the roll-out of OpenHawaii.org, Grassroot President Keli’i Akina issued the following statement: “While Hawaii has fine sunshine laws, government agencies often make it hard for the public to get the information they need.  OpenHawaii.org will now make it possible for citizens to hold government accountable by seeing exactly how tax dollars are being spent.  Grassroot Institute is pleased to offer this as an independent public service to fulfill our role as a watchdog and educational resource.” While OpenHawaii.org will eventually make available records from any government department, the website premiere will feature county and state salary and overtime records, as well as retirement, health insurance, budgetary, and other data. Records show that police and fire departments spend the most on overtime across the state as well as on pensions and benefits. On Kauai, for example, some police officers making a base salary between $53,000 – $76,000 receive more than double their salary in overtime.  The data shows that the same employees receive retirement contributions from the public of up to $54,000 per year. On Maui, a police sergeant making a base salary of $83,590 per year made an extra $86,918 in 2014. This data is critical to understanding the crisis in pension costs and unfunded liabilities currently faced by the State of Hawaii. In the future, OpenHawaii.org...

Grassroot Seeks Evidence Of Waihee’s Native Hawaiian Roll Claims

Watchdog Group Files Information Request Regarding Chairman’s Claim that 99% of Native Hawaiians Added from Other Lists Asked to Remain on Roll HONOLULU, HAWAII–March 5, 2015–Today, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii filed an Information Act request with the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission seeking substantiation of claims made by Roll Chairman John Waihee III that suggested near-unanimous consent by individuals whose names were transferred from other lists in the building of the Roll itself. Waihee’s comments were made during an interview with Hawaii News Now on Feb. 23, 2015 that explored a recent lawsuit filed against the Roll Commission for its failure to comply with an information request for the Roll. In the report, Waihee says that the approximately 80,000 individuals added to the Native Hawaiian Roll via the Kau Inoa list were asked if they wanted their names removed and adds that, “Ninety-nine percent of the people said, ‘No! Keep our registration.'” Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., President of Grassroot Institute, states, “Our request for information is made on behalf of all Native Hawaiians and citizens of the State of Hawaii to hold a government agency transparent and accountable.  The Native Hawaiian Roll Chairman has made claims that must be documented in order for the public to know the truth about how their money is being spent and whether individuals whose names were automatically transferred to the Roll from other sources gave their consent.  Furthermore, if the Roll contains names of individuals who have not truly registered, its claim to represent the will of the Hawaiian people becomes questionable.” The process by which the Native Hawaiian Roll has been assembled thus far...

Grassroot Demands Accountability from Native Hawaiian Roll as Suit Is Filed for Lack of Transparency

Following repeated failed requests for public records, a nonprofit group and former Hawaii AG seek to compel disclosure HONOLULU, HAWAII–Feb. 18, 2015-After repeated efforts by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and non-profit government watchdog group Judicial Watch to obtain a copy of the Native Hawaiian Roll (Kana’iolowalu), Judicial Watch and former Hawaii Attorney General Michael Lilly are filing suit to compel the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission to release the list to the public.  The lack of cooperation and stall tactics employed in the effort to avoid compliance with state transparency laws raise serious concerns about the activities of the Commission as well as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The Native Hawaiian Roll, established in 2011 by Legislative Act 195 and administered by OHA, aims to create a voter list for an “aha” (constitutional convention). Enrollment in the Native Hawaiian Roll is limited to individuals of Native Hawaiian blood who complete an affidavit affirming “the unrelinquished sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.” According to Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., president of the Grassroot Institute, “After more than two years of enrollment efforts by OHA and the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, the vast majority of Native Hawaiian people have chosen not to participate and many have serious concerns over the way the Roll has been compiled.  There are numerous questions concerning the tens of thousands of names that have been placed on the list without the express permission of individuals, particularly those who provided their names to lists such as Kau Inoa which does not affirm ‘unrelinquished sovereignty.’  Other questions concern the process by which substantial numbers of prisoners have allegedly been added to the list.” Dr. Akina continues: “The...

Hawaii Ranks 47th in Small Business Friendliness

Low Ranking on Small Business Policy Index Points to Need for Economic Reform Hawaii is the fourth-worst state in the nation when it comes to policies that are friendly to small business according to a recent study by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. The state ranked 47th overall with only New York, New Jersey, and California scoring lower. This score represents a drop from last year’s 46th place ranking. The 2014 Small Business Policy Index considers 42 separate policy indicators in scoring and ranking each state. While the report did identify a few positives, such as the low property taxes, low corporate capital gains tax, low wireless taxes, and beautiful weather, the pros were far outweighed by the negatives that contributed to the state’s low score. In particular, certain very high taxes were cited as especially problematic for small business, such as the high unemployment taxes, high gas and diesel taxes, and state death tax. Moreover, Hawaii has the second-highest personal income tax rate and the highest consumption-based taxes. These high tax rates, combined with restrictive regulations (like the increased minimum wage) make Hawaii a difficult place for small businesses and entrepreneurs. “Small businesses are the canary in the coal mine for a healthy state economy,” stated Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., President of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. “The fact that we are slowly suffocating small business and entrepreneurship should alarm those who are working for a brighter economic future in Hawaii.” “With a new Governor in place and the legislative session about to start, it is time to embrace policies that foster entrepreneurship and encourage the growth of small...