Hawaiian homeland spending issues are becoming racist

Feb. 1 (Reuters) – Questions about how to spend $600 million in record funding for Hawaiian Native homes were sidetracked by racial issues after state Senator Kurt Fevella testified before the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission that Gov. Josh Green’s election to lead the state’s housing effort lacks “passion” for Hawaiians.

Questions about how to spend $600 million in record funding for Hawaiian Native homes were distracted by racial issues after state Senator Kurt Fevella testified before the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission that the election of Governor Josh Green, leading the state’s housing efforts lacked “passion.” for Hawaiians.

Green wrote a two-page letter to Senate Speaker Ron Kouchi condemning Fevella’s comments he made to the commission Friday about the Hawaii chief housing officer, citing multiple violations of Senate rules.

Fevella said Nani Medeiros had “nothing or no knowledge of our Hawaiians. I don’t care if she says she’s Hawaiian. Just remember, the devil was an angel too. Remember. So just because you’re Hawaiian doesn’t mean you have the passion for people.”

Descended from Hawaiian ancestry on his father’s side, Medeiros became emotional and tearful, according to Fevella.

She said that after volunteering and working for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, beginning when she was a 16-year-old high school student, no one ever questioned what she called her “Hawaiian identity” or her commitment to Native Hawaiians at the ‘Iolani School through her time at the University of Hawaii and into her 30s.

“I found it very offensive that he questioned my race, my Hawaiian affiliation and knew nothing about Hawaiians,” Medeiros told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “He said, ‘Remember, the devil was an angel too. Remember that.’ Who else was he talking about, his point was that I had nothing to do with the table because I’m unqualified and I’m the devil.

Medeiros said her grandmother, Veronica Luli-Kwan Medeiros, worked to establish Hawaiian education in public schools.

“My family is very active in Hawaiian affairs and our people,” she said. “It’s crazy chasing my race.”

Fevella (R, Ocean Pointe-Iroquois Point-Kapolei) did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Kouchi said in a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “I received a letter from the governor today requesting a meeting with me and Senator Fevella. I have spoken to Senator Fevella and we welcome the opportunity to meet with the Governor on this matter.”

State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D, Kaneohe-Kailua), who is Hawaiian and serves on the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee, told the Star Advertiser that Fevella’s questioning of comments about Medeiros deflected legitimate concerns Keoho Kalole had about the DHHL shares plans — or lack of plans — on how best to spend the $600 million lawmakers approved last session to fulfill the state’s promise to provide shelters for Native Hawaiians.

“This is an intergenerational housing proposal,” Keohokalole said. “Do we really have time for this banter?”

Earlier this month, at a controversial joint hearing by the Senate Ways and Means and Hawaiian Affairs Committees, Medeiros joined Ikaika Anderson, Green’s nominee to head the State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, to answer questions from Fevella and other senators about the plans by DHHL approving $600 million in 2022 to clear the backlog of home country beneficiaries.

Fevella then testified before the Anderson-chaired commission on Friday, saying Anderson “lied” five times during testimony to the senators, including about whether the commission approved changes to their plans for using the $600 million.

In his letter to the Senate President, Green — a former state senator — wrote that Fevella’s comments about Medeiros violated several Senate codes of conduct.

Green said Fevella had “Ms. Equating Medeiros with the devil, falsely claiming that Ms. Medeiros is not actually Hawaiian, and stating that Ms. Medeiros has ‘no knowledge of her own ethnicity’.”

Green wrote that Fevella’s comments violated Senate Rule 81, which requires state senators to “behave respectfully … at all times act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the Senate”; treat the public “with respect and courtesy, regardless of … race, ethnicity”; and “not to exhibit any bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based on … race, ethnicity.”

“Senator Fevella’s statements and conduct in relation to Ms. Medeiros violate all of these rules – fundamental principles that represent the bare minimum expected not just of a senator but of everyone in society,” Green wrote. “Senator Fevella should be held accountable for his behavior to restore expectations that people can come before the Senate and be received with grace, grace and aloha.”

Green concluded that he “respectfully requests that appropriate action be taken on this matter.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki announced Tuesday that the House has set up a working group to oversee DHHL’s plans to use the $600 million.

The group consists of Chairman Rep. Troy Hashimoto (D, Wailuku-Waikapu) and Reps. David Tarnas (D, Hawi-Waimea-Waikoloa), Daniel Holt (D, Sand Island-Iwilei-Chinatown), Scott Y. Nishi moto (D, Moiliili-McCully), Mahina Poepoe (D, Molokai-Lanai-Hana) and Gene Ward (Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley).

“We look forward to working closely with DHHL in overseeing the $600 million made available by the Legislature,” Hashimoto said in a statement. “This is a rare opportunity to make major investments in Native Hawaiian housing and it is vital that the funds are spent quickly and responsibly. This has the potential, if successful, to kick-start and allow us to make great strides in reducing the long-standing wait list.”