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Meet the Candidate: Mele Carroll

State representative has the political will.

Gaming, the homestead wait-list, renewable energy, and Rep. Carroll’s political future are among what she wants voters to know. She visited Molokai a few times this month, and sat down with the Dispatch to discuss her political future as a Molokai representative.

Molokai Dispatch (MD):
What are your top political priorities?

Mele Carroll (MC): The state’s owes a settlement of $600 million to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL). Legislature mandates $30 million every year [to DHHL] that goes into building infrastructure to put more people on their lands. But the wait list for Hawaiians to receive land has tripled to 26,000 which is a good thing for Native Hawaiians, but a bad thing for DHHL. Currently DHHL is only able to provide [homesteads] for about 500 to 1,000 people a year. That is not enough.

Also, the settlement goes away after 2014. The director of DHHL told me that through commercial leases and federal grants they raise an estimated $18 million per year – but their operations cost is $22 million. After the $30 million goes away? You do the math. We’re not even making enough to sustain what we need to stay intact.

As Chair of Hawaiian Affairs my biggest priority is to build the DHHL trust fund. During statehood, the federal government obligated Hawaii to provide adequate funding to put Native Hawaiians on their lands in a timely manner. Because they haven’t lived up to this obligation, there have been several law suits. The latest, Kalima versus DHHL, is based on claimants who passed away without receiving land. The settlement could bankrupt the state, and the state is ultimately responsible because it’s in our constitution

MD: What about the blood quantum which states Hawaiians need to be 50 percent or more Hawaiian ancestry in order to qualify for homelands?

MC: If I had it my way, every Hawaiian who qualifies would be on the land and that’s my goal as long as I’m on the legislature.

But first things first – we need to reduce that wait list for the 50 percenters or more. Create economic development that allows Native Hawaiians to benefit from their land because they’ve got lots of land. Collaborate, not just with OHA – there are a lot of agencies and individuals that want to assist but we’ve got to make the connection. And it’s possible but we need the political will. I’ve taken it on very aggressively. I’ll be introducing my gaming bill one more time in January for that conversation.

MD: Your gaming bill got a lot of people jumping up and down – why gaming?

MC: DHHL doesn’t ask the state for general funds, there’s no political will to provide the funds, and right now the state doesn’t have the funds anyway. We need to provide a mechanism that provides the revenue. I introduced the gaming bill on Hawaiian homelands to shine a light on the trust fund and to say ‘if not gaming, then what?’

I went to Seattle in January to see what federal recognition has done for Native Americans. What I saw was the gaming – they own their own electric, telephone, cable and construction companies. They’ve empowered their people through entrepreneurship. They’ve reduced their own unemployment rates to the point they need to hire from outside. They even provide their own health benefits. It is the people who own the casinos.

A lot of people here go to Vegas and why are we investing in Vegas? Those who were against that bill I asked ‘are you willing to raise taxes?’ because the state is ultimately responsible – they took on that obligation from the federal government.

Of course you’d have to create a gaming commission, you need regulation. You can do it in a controlled way. The best thing about the American Indians in the North West is that they take care of their problems – their homelessness, their substance abuse – because they have the money to do so. We don’t. The state doesn’t. That’s why we’re in this situation.

MD: What else are you doing to improve DHHL?

MC: This past session we passed a bill that allows for a one-time extension on commercial leases, but lessees have to consult with beneficiaries and comply with chapter 91 which provides for public hearings. We want make sure there is transparency. 15 percent of revenue from extended leases will go into the Native Hawaiian rehabilitation fund to provide scholarships and grants through DHHL.

The law also allows DHHL to start building homes and infrastructure without the full amount by using the trust fund as credit. What we want to do is force the state to do what they’re supposed to do.

MD: Everyone is jumping onboard with renewable energy – where do you stand?

MC: We’ve done work in the energy sector coordinating all the different technologies for evaluation because what might be good for one island might not work for another. There is a resolution that was made at the last democrat convention asking the administration to do the study and present it to the public so we know our options. It also asks that the money stays in Hawaii – there are so many providers and vendors out there. We need to create a comprehensive study of what is available so that lawmakers and the community can be a part of that process that decides where Hawaii will go with energy. We’ve got to have that evaluation process.

We have an island system. You’re looking at transmission of energy from the neighbor islands which have most of the resources. But Oahu has the greatest need. We need to look beyond what Oahu needs. Right now I’m working with Lanai because the community doesn’t feel there is any community benefit – that’s the conversation we need to be having on Molokai – is there community benefit?

MD: It seems like you political career is gaining momentum – what are your aspirations?

MC: I’d like to be in the Senate should Senator English choose to continue on. But I haven’t made a decision as far as governor or congress. There are supporters who want me to do both. But my thing is spiritual. I put it to prayer and just say wherever Ke Akua wants me to be, that’s where I need to be. It’s because of Ke Akua that I’ve been able to unveil a lot of things and it’s through those prayers that many people have been sent to help me with this work. So I believe I’m supposed to be where I’m at right now and Ke Akua will tell me what the next step will be. 

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