Challenging OHA With Aloha For All
The following article was published in the O'ahu, Hawai'i weekly newspaper called "Midweek" on January 2, 2002. The text was accompanied by photographs. Below is a text-only version of the article. A pdf copy of the article -- 2 separate pdf pages, including photos -- can be downloaded by clicking both of these URLs, one after the other. Caution: page 1 requires 4 or 5 minutes to download through a 56K modem; page 2 requires about 1 minute.
Midweek, January 2, 2002 article
Challenging OHA With Aloha For All
By MALIA ZIMMERMAN
Attorney H. William Burgess, 72, sits beside his wife, Sandra Puanani Burgess - or "Pumpkin," as he affectionately calls her - on a couch in the airy living room of their Hawaiian-style Tantalus home, passionately discussing the mission that both united them as a couple and divided their family.
William, a native of North Carolina who's lived in Hawaii since 1956, and Sandra, born and raised in Hawaii in a family of Hawaiian/Chinese/Filipino ancestry, are fighting to restore harmony and equality among all races in Hawaii. Through lawsuits, political activism, public education and a coordinated but controversial campaign, "Aloha for All," the couple is attempting to rid Hawaii of any special programs, agencies or funds for Hawaiians.
In particular, they want to disband what they term the two "motherships" of government racial discrimination: the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. They believe these agencies and other factors have brought racism to the islands and divide people, rather than creating a harmonious melting pot of all races.
"We believe in advocating for aloha for all, which means that all citizens, whatever their ancestry, are entitled to equal protection of the law," says Burgess. "The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands not only divide people according to race, they send a message to Hawaiian people that they cannot be successful or make it on their own in the world without help from government."
Ironically, William was a member of the group that established the Office of Hawaiian Affairs when he was elected to the state's only constitutional convention in 1978 as one of 100 delegates charged with the task of amending the state constitution. He says OHA has been a disaster for the last 23 years.
"I was concerned about the formation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs back then, and now I am convinced OHA was the worst mistake the state ever made. But I was not on the Hawaiian affairs committee that decided to push that change to the constitution through. John Waihee was one of the leaders of the constitutional convention, and was the dominant leader of the whole convention and the reason OHA went through."
One of the biggest problems that came out of the formation of OHA, Burgess says, is the redirection of state income from ceded lands. Before OHA was formed, 20 percent of the net profit from the state's ceded lands, the 1.8 million acres owned by the government of Hawaii that were turned over to the state when Hawaii was annexed in 1959, was used to fund public education. In 1980, the state Legislature decided that 20 percent of all funds derived from the public land trust would go to OHA.
Now OHA takes that 20 percent of the money for what Burgess terms "slick ads that divide people of Hawaii, legal fees, lobbyists in Washington, D.C." The money from the ceded lands should go to the public schools rather than to OHA, Burgess says, as many of the children in public schools are of Hawaiian ancestry and these moneys benefited them as well as all children in the state school system.
"It has," he says accusingly, "created a bureaucracy whose livelihood depends on keeping Hawaiians in a permanent victim status."
OHA takes more than its fair share of money from the ceded lands, Burgess says, by taking not only 20 percent of the net profit but 20 percent of the gross revenues. Twenty percent of the gross is more than the entire net income from the ceded lands.
One example, he says, is Hilo Hospital, a state owned and operated facility that needs to pay its doctors, nurses and staff as well as buy medical supplies and equipment, and pay operational costs. Those expenses are not deducted from the gross revenue before OHA takes its 20 percent cut, so the hospital does not make a profit.
"This system is a vehicle for transferring vast amounts of public money to one racial group," Burgess says.
Then from 1990 to 1993, the ceded lands issue heated up at the state Legislature and in the federal court. After extensive discussion with OHA, legislators in 1993 authorized $136 million in back payments to OHA for the years 1980 to 1991.
In January 1994, the controversy continued when OHA filed a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii, demanding more money from ceded lands, arising from receipts of the Waikiki-DutyFree shop, public housing, the Hilo hospital and investment earnings. In October 1996, state Circuit Court Judge Daniel Heely ruled the state should pay more than the $136 million to OHA it already paid in back claims. The media estimated the amount would be between $300 million and $1.2 billion more. After much debate and negotiation, the state appealed Heely's ruling in the Hawaii Supreme Court, and the court reversed the decision in September 2001.
"Reversing the 1996 Heely decision is a big step forward and it blew away a black cloud hanging over the state's economy for the last five years," Burgess says.
The other agency the Burgesses are targeting is the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, formed in 1921. The agency manages 200,000 acres of land statewide that it distributes to people of 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood, who can get homestead leases for 99 years at $1 per year. However, the agency is not well administered, critics, including Burgess, say. Many Hawaiians have died on the waiting list, hoping to their final breath for property because the infrastructure is not built.
"These two programs have been the main sources of the plight of Hawaiians today," Burgess says. "They have created a poverty trap. Rather than help the Hawaiians, now 50 percent of Hawaiians are dependent on the state and federal government, and the government has taken away their incentive to be a part of the American economy or democracy."
The Burgesses say they don't believe people already on Hawaiian lands should be kicked out or have their benefits taken away, but rather Hawaiians should be given the lots of land to sell or keep as if it was their own property. Right now, Hawaiians on home lands can't mortgage or sell their property. Besides working to shut down OHA and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, William and Sandra have looked for other ways to level the playing field for all of Hawaii's races.
Together they wrote for the Hawaii Bar Journal in July 2001 the "Ceded Lands Case: Money Intended for Education Goes to OHA." They filed an amicus brief in OHA vs. State 1999 challenging the validity of OHA. And most publicly, they brought suit in federal court with 13 plaintiffs against the state of Hawaii, in Arakaki vs. State of Hawaii 2000, which invalidated racial restrictions on those running for or serving on the OHA board of directors. "Big Island rancher Freddie Rice took his case to the United States Supreme Court and won," Burgess says. "The Supreme Court justices decided it was wrong for the state to deny voting rights to non-Hawaiians wanting to vote for OHA trustees, based on the 15th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. Our case filed in U.S. District Court asked the court to take that decision one step further, saying the state Office of Elections must allow non-Hawaiians not only to vote, but to run for the OHA seats. U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor ruled in our favor in September of last year based on the 14th and 15th amendments."
Part of Burgess' sensitivity to racial issues comes from being raised in the South during the segregation of blacks and whites. Sandra, who is a half Chinese, a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Filipino, never felt she should have more privileges than others in Hawaii, simply because of her Hawaiian ancestry.
It was a chance meeting in 1971 in the laundry room in the basement of their Harbor Court condominium for William and Sandra. Both were recently separated from their spouses, but they began dating, marrying seven years later in 1978. They had five children between them from previous marriages, and today are grandparents six times over.
Both have a passion for sports, particularly running, and Sandra says her husband helped generate her love for running. William competed in several sports competitions, including three Ironman competitions. Sandra is now an ultra runner, and William says he cannot keep up with her any longer. Burgess was athletic since his youth, on the varsity boxing team at the University of Virginia. After attending the University of Virginia Law School and graduating in 1953, he enrolled in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 to 1958 as a fighter pilot and legal officer.
Once out of the military, Burgess joined the law firm of Carlsmith & Carlsmith in 1958, leaving in 1962 to join A. William Barlow in his law practice for three years. In 1965, Burgess opened his own law office, where he focused full time on business and real property litigation. From 1969 to 1972, he was the volunteer president of the Legal Aid Society. And in 1979, Burgess was one of the founders and first president of the Neighborhood Justice Center of Honolulu, now called the Mediation Center of the Pacific. In 1994, he retired from his practice and became a trustee for a Maui shopping center in Chapter 11 reorganization. He and Sandra continue to dedicate a great deal of time to changing Hawaii's politics and viewpoint surrounding Hawaiian issues.
"I moved to Hawaii in 1956 because it represented a melting pot - all races lived together in harmony. Today, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the other 150 state and federal programs that benefit one race - Hawaiians - keep the drumbeat that Hawaiians have been wronged and that because of injustices they cannot make it in the world. They are a divisive force and we will do what we can to change this by pushing to rid Hawaii of these agencies and programs in a way that is not harsh or unfair, especially to the homesteaders in need."
The Burgesses say they are advocates of aloha for all and believe their work will preserve democracy in Hawaii.
"American democracy," he says, "fits perfectly with the aloha spirit. It is not for people with just one ancestry."
For more information, check out the Aloha for All Web site at http://aloha4all.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hawaii Reporter, November 4, 2005
Fighting for Hawaii, America and Democracy
Bill and Sandra Burgess are Honored for Their Work on Preserving Aloha for All
By Malia Zimmerman
One of Hawaii’s most controversial and most politically effective couples -- H. William and Sandra Puanani Burgess -- is being honored with the prestigious George Washington Award at a Nov. 4, 2005, dinner hosted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.
The Burgesses co-founded Aloha for All, an organization that seeks to educate the public about special native Hawaiian programs and benefits they believe should be afforded to people of all races in Hawaii.
Bill, a retired lawyer and former resident of North Carolina in Hawaii since 1956, has used his legal background to file lawsuits challenging funding for such exclusive government programs as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Office of Hawaiian Homelands. His wife Sandra, or "Punkin" as she is nicknamed, joins her husband in being an outspoken opponent of special rights and privileges for native Hawaiians, even though she herself is part-Hawaiian.
The Akaka Bill, now pending a vote in the U.S. Congress, has been a major focus of the Burgesses and Aloha for All. The Akaka Bill, which was scheduled for a cloture vote in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 6, 2005, seeks to afford native Hawaiians even more benefits than now received by native Americans and Native Alaskans, such as government land and subsidies.
Sandra and Bill have passionately fought against the bill, both locally and in Washington D.C., where they went before Congressional Committees to testify against the Akaka Bill. They continue to try and kill the Akaka Bill because they strongly believe the race-based political system is dangerous for Hawaii. They say instead, Hawaii should be looking at ways to create racial harmony.
"We believe in advocating for aloha for all, which means that all citizens, whatever their ancestry, are entitled to equal protection under the law," says Sandra.
Those who know the Burgesses say they have shown great courage in the face of much opposition, backed by tremendous power and money.
Hawaii’s most senior Senator in Congress, Daniel Inouye, is pushing for the Akaka Bill’s passage, as is U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, for whom the bill is named. Hawaii’s two other Congressmen, Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case support the bill, along with all the other major political powers in the state, including Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, all members of the House and Senate with the exception of Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai.
As former Democrat Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, who opposed the Akaka Bill, says, "politicians support the bill because they want to be politically correct."
In addition to ensuring the Akaka Bill does not pass in its current form, they want to disband what they term the "mothership of government racial discrimination," the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. They currently have a lawsuit pending in federal court challenging government funding to OHA.
The system is a vehicle for transferring vast amounts of public money to one racial group, Bill says. OHA takes 20 percent of the money allocated to the agency for "slick ads that divide the people of Hawaii, legal fees, lobbyists in Washington D.C."
"The money should go to public schools rather than to OHA because many children in the public schools are native Hawaiian and the monies could benefit them and children of other nationalities who are enrolled," Bill says.
Ironically, Bill was one of 100 elected members of the 1978 state Constitutional Convention when OHA was established. Now looking back, he says the formation of OHA is the biggest mistake the state ever made. "We created a bureaucracy whose livelihood depends on keeping native Hawaiians in a permanent victim status."
The Burgesses continue to advocate for the state’s 200,000 acres of Hawaiian Homelands to be distributed to Hawaiians so they can own the land, rather than lease it, and have to return the land when they die, rather than pass on the land to their family.
Sandra and Bill also have faced the rage of a vocal group of native Hawaiians who say Hawaii should not be part of the United States and should become an independent nation where there is no military. Dressed in T-shirts the color of blood red, thousands of native Hawaiians and their supporters recently rallied at Iolani Palace to march to the Royal Mausoleum in defense of Kamehameha Schools’ race-based admissions policy and other Hawaiian subsidies and government-sponsored programs. Signs at the rally read, We are not American; We are not American; We are not American; We will die as Hawaiians; We will never be American!" At the rally, the governor spoke in defense of race-based programs and policies for native Hawaiians as did a number of other community leaders.
Bill and Sandra, who have been married since 1978 and have 5 children and 6 grandchildren between them, say they believe their work will preserve democracy in Hawaii.
Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor and president of Hawaii Reporter, via email at Malia@hawaiireporter.com