The reforms that make all other reform possible – starting with automatic voter registration.

Reforming and improving the way we conduct campaigns and elections, will allow us to reinvigorate our democracy and thus pave the way to changing public policy for the better, at all levels.  These reforms include campaign finance reform, public financing of elections, all mail-in ballots, rank choice voting, automatic voter registration and others.

During the upcoming 2019 legislative session the citizens of Hawaii will have the opportunity to support Automatic Voter Registration (AVR).  I encourage all to put this on your “legislative radar”.  Please share this information with your friends and neighbors and testify in support as hearings are held in the future.

What is Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)?

Eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote, or their voter registration is updated,when they apply or renew their State ID or Driver’s License, unless they decline. Voter information is electronically transferred between licensing and election officials, resulting in a more efficient, secure, convenient process that saves money.

AVR is a step towards much needed modernization of elections in Hawaii.

  • Hawaii is using out-of-date systems and decades-old technology. It’s time to modernize.
  • Hawaii, implemented Online Voter Registration in 2015 and phased in same dayregistration starting in 2016. Automatic Voter Registration is the logical next step.
  • Hawaii has had the lowest voter turnout in the country for the last 20 years. This willhelp turn that around by increasing convenience and improving access to voting.
  • As of December 2018, AVR has been approved in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The data shows that AVR improves the likelihood that people will vote by minimizingbureaucracy and requiring less time and effort from eligible voters.AVR will enhance the security of our elections.
  • Recent court challenges surrounding local races highlight the need for greater security.
  • Elections will be more secure due to the increased accuracy of voter rolls, and use of anencrypted system to transfer data rather than paper forms
  • Automatic Voter Registration helps to make sure that all eligible voters in Hawaii areregistered to vote at their current address. This increases the security of our electionsbecause we know that ballots are sent it to the correct location and correct voter.
  • Privacy and freedom are protected, as people may choose to opt-out.Automatic Voter Registration will save us money.
  • Traditional paper registration typically costs 30 times more than AVR. The cost of implementing AVR are outweighed by the long-term savings it will yield.
  • Processing paper forms in Hawaii during the 2016 election cycle cost nearly $575,000 for labor. This does not include the printing of voter registration forms, mailings related to duplicate registration entries, and the postage of forwarding registration forms to the proper recipient. It does not include more than 33,000 applications submitted during the 2016 election cycle that the state did not categorize when reporting the data.
  • Up-to-date voter rolls will help reduce the cost of sending ballots to wrong addresses.AVR improves access to voting for eligible voters in Hawaii
  • AVR helps ensure that voting isn’t needlessly difficult for working and military familieswho move frequently, as well as homebound seniors, students, and voters in rural areas
  • AVR reduces unnecessary barriers to voting and time demands on people holding two jobs or who are juggling school, work and family.
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Mahalo to the good folks at TSA. We owe you, big time.

Wracking my brain as to what I can do to support the good people working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), during this ongoing government shutdown.  They are working very hard for all of us, literally keeping our economy afloat, but they have not been paid in several weeks.  As someone who frequently flies between the islands, TSA workers are the most visible of all the federal workers impacted by the insanity that envelopes the Whitehouse. 

The Mad King wants his wall, and is determined to let nothing stand in his way toward getting it.  He forgets that he reigns over a democracy with a constitution that shares power between the executive and legislative branches. He forgets that governing requires the juggling of priorities.  And most importantly he forgets that he is not the center of the universe, and that his actions have real impacts on real people.  Either he forgets, or he simply does not care.

To end the government shutdown and return at least a semblance of normality to government operations, Congressional leaders must find a compromise that allows our King to “save face” and look and feel like a winner.  It is clear that he will remain firmly stuck in his position, regardless of the collateral damage to working men and women, until he is provided with an escape route that he can claim as a victory. 

So in a nutshell (pun intended), leadership in Congress must give him a victory without giving him his wall.  

Perhaps a “blue ribbon commission” whose job is to evaluate and make recommendations on the wall, before additional funding is made available?  Perhaps a process that acknowledges the many very real challenges faced by the “immigration issue”, that explores all of the various options and tools available to deal with that issue (including the wall), before additional funds are made available?  Perhaps….you get the picture.  

There are ways to deal with the immigration issue, that may satisfy the President but still fall short of the unnecessary, unrealistic, impractical, ineffective and very expensive wall.  I am hopeful that there are smarter, more creative people than I who can figure this out, and in fact are seeking such a path that allows the proverbial “win win” to occur.

TSA workers should not have to pay the price for the inflated and or bruised ego’s of people who have never experienced what most would consider a “real job”.

These good folks simply want to do their jobs, pay their bills and enjoy life. 

Everyone I know has bills to pay on the 1st and the 15th of the month, and everyone I know would be stressed to the max if their paychecks or retirement checks or their social security stopped coming in the mail.  Our friends and neighbors working at the airport are no different.  Their children need school supplies, their plumbing springs a leak, their cars breakdown and their landlords need rent like the banks need their mortgages paid.  And yes, credit scores decline and take years to resolve or correct.

We as a community need to do something for the good folks that are going to work without pay, and thus allowing all of us to go to work and keep our economy going.  Imagine the price we would all be paying if the airport closed down due to flight safety concerns.

We need to do more than just say “thank you” as we traverse the security line.  I thought about bringing goodies, or treats or asking my wife to bake them a cake – until visions of Marie Antoinette flashed through my mind.  Perhaps the visitor industry can pony up some “staycation” rooms at the various resorts, as a special treat for these special people?  Perhaps those of you who own restaurants could drop by gift certificates so they can take their spouse or special friend out to dinner, even while the bills continue to pile up?  Or a spa treatment, or even lawn care or a car wash…or whatever.  Any meaningful gesture I am sure would be welcome, and would brighten the day for a hard working and unpaid employee.

It goes without saying that the Kauai County Council and the Mayor should declare a “We love our federal workers day” and issue a Resolution and a Proclamation, even though as I write this the gesture rings hollow and without substance.

Bottom line is we need to show our appreciation in some tangible and meaningful way, each of us as individuals and as a community.  What’s happening to the TSA folks and many other federal workers is just wrong, and we as a community must shoulder some responsibility for it.

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Living Wage Legislation – Radical Leftist Concept or Essential Centrist Thinking?

In response to my previous column “Hawaii’s minimum wage needs to start at $17 and strive to be a living wage” a woman wrote to me saying “I have voted for you in the past but it seems you have moved too far to the left…”.  She then wrote about how she opposed “too much government” and about how increasing the minimum wage would cause “the price of everything to go up”.

I suspect this woman is strong on environmental issues and has supported me over the years, because of my likewise strong positions on environmental protection and land use.  I appreciate that support enormously. But let me ask that she –and others of a similar mindset–be open to thinking about the importance of economic justice as well.

It is interesting that some believe that requiring business to pay a living wage is a radical left wing concept.  Remember, government has been requiring businesses to pay over-time wages, to provide workers compensation insurance and to provide a safe working environment for their employees for decades now. Most of us, I believe, consider these government mandates as part of our modern civil society and not radical concepts at all.

There are many places where the minimum wage is close to that of a living wage, and the sky has not yet fallen on those communities.  In Australia their fast food workers get paid $20 per hour.  Yes, their burgers are probably considered expensive by some, but this has not put the fast food industry out of business.

Here today, according to the state’s own data, “40% of jobs in Hawaii pay below a living wage, and nearly half of all families do not earn enough to pay for their basic needs.” StarAdvertiser December 26, 2018. 

How do we stand by and do nothing while our neighbors struggle in this way?

Yes, if the minimum wage is increased we may have to pay 25 cents more for a burger (which we don’t really need and is bad for our health anyway) and another dollar for the cheap big box clothing (which was probably made in China and which we probably don’t really need either).

But the flip side is that those employees cooking those burgers and selling us those cheap clothes, will now be able to participate in their children’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA), instead of rushing off to their second or third job.  Or maybe they will just go home and read a good book, or throw a ball around with the kids in the yard.  These same employees will now perhaps even be able to go to dinner themselves, or buy their young son or daughter those running shoes they have been asking for.

For the record, I understand also that increasing the minimum wage is only one part of the formula necessary to support working people rising up out of poverty.  The Anne E. Casey Foundation describes what I believe is an all encompassing 3 part solution, they call Earn It, Keep It and Grow It.  Increasing the minimum wage addresses only the “Earn It” component.  The other components involved increased asset building via affordable home ownership, and the strict regulation of “predatory lending” practices such as are now utilized by Pay Day Lenders, Credit Cards and private Student Loan Providers.  

I, for one, don’t think it is a radical idea for those who have more, to be willing to pay more, so that those who have less will at least enjoy the fundamental basics all of us deserve.  I don’t think it is “leftist” to believe that every person who works 40 hours per week should be paid a wage that is sufficient to provide basic shelter, food and health care.  To me, if anything this concept should be central to all of our values and thinking.  

After all – we are all in this together. I am not a pious church-goer, but those who are will recall the Gospel message to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and yes, to give one of our coats to the man who has none. So, believers and nonbelievers, environmental justice warriors and social justice champions should be able to find common ground in this effort to ensure a means of survival–just survival– for all working families in Hawaii. Don’t we call ourselves the aloha state?

Please visit Raise Up Hawaii to read the facts  that hopefully will counter the fear and misinformation perpetuated by the big box, fast food and big business interests that seek to keep wages and worker benefits as low as possible. 

Happy New Year, one and all–and let’s work to make it so for ALL.

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Hawaii’s minimum wage needs to start at $17 per hour and strive to be a living wage.

Every person willing to work 40 hours per week, deserves to earn a wage that is sufficient to provide basic shelter, food and medical care.  This statement should not be debatable.

A friend once told me, “There is no such thing as a bad job, there are only bad wages.”

Hawaii’s Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) estimates the very basic minimum living wage for a single person without children, to be approximately $17 per hour.

Hawaii’s current minimum wage is $10.10 per hour.

The State Legislature will be considering Bills, during the 2019 legislative session to gradually raise Hawaii’s minimum wage until it eventually reaches the living wage threshold (now at $17).  

This bold, forward thinking, people centered public policy making, could in fact actually happen, but only if working people across the state get involved and demand it.

The reality of the legislative process is that very often major decisions are based simply upon which way the wind is blowing.  The facts and circumstances are of course important, but it is the wind of public sentiment that makes things move (or not) at the legislature.

Regular working people, families, singles, young and old people who slave everyday earning substandard wages across Hawaii, hold the power and strength of Hurricante Iniki on this issue.  

If Hawaii’s rank and file workers, can set aside some small amount of time to engage this issue, and use the power they have – then Hawaii’s minimum wage can in fact become a living wage.

Research and historical experience here in Hawaii clearly shows, that the impacts on our economy will only be positive.  And that nothing bad has ever happened when the minimum wage has been raised in the past in Hawaii.  The key component of implementation is small steady increases over time that exceed the annual cost of living, or consumer price index (CPI).

Various business and the Chamber of Commerce will of course tell you that if Hawaii raises its minimum wage gradually over time to achieve a living wage threshold, that the sky will surely fall.

Yes, in some cases prices will rise in order to cover the increased cost incurred by the business.  In other cases the profits of the business may be reduced somewhat.  Yes, consumers may have to pay an additional 25 cents for that elusive gelato, or burger, or plate lunch, or whatever.  But as an island state no business will have to fear consumers driving across the state line where wages might be lower to buy their burger cheaper.

I have owned small businesses myself in the past and know full well the stress and strain that comes with meeting a payroll on the first and the fifteenth.  I understand that operating a small business in a small marketplace is hard and managing costs are a critical component.  However, because every business will be playing by the same rules, the competitive pricing among all business will remain constant. 

We may all pay a small amount more for our fast food and cheap clothing from the big box stores, but we will all also benefit from the additional economic activity as these same dollars are recirculated in our economy.  

More importantly, our entire community will benefit from the fact that all will be able to afford the basics.  Homelessness will be reduced, crime will be reduced, and drug addiction and its related issues will be reduced.  And, the very real public and societal costs we are all paying now to deal (or to not deal) with these issues will likewise be reduced.

Setting the minimum wage floor at an amount sufficient to keep a person dry, fed and healthy is not a new or particularly radical concept. Per a December 2017 report on CNBC, 13 other metropolitan areas in the U.S. now have a minimum wage that is sufficient to be considered a living wage, including: Tucson AZ, Fresno CA, Mesa AZ, Toledo OH, Detroit MI, Buffalo NY, Phoenix AZ, Omaha NE and Columbus Ohio.  Some of these areas have larger populations than Hawaii and some smaller.

The 2019 legislative session begins on January 16th.  The Democratic Party of Hawaii has declared a living wage as its #1 priority.  A majority of the elected members in both the House and the Senate have stated publicly that they support a living wage.

However the reality is that the legislature will not move on this important issue without a loud and broad-based show of support from the general public.  And this support must be voiced now, early to ensure that this important issue gets on the legislative radar, and stays there until passed into law.

Big business lobbyists are already walking the halls and hosting expensive meet and greet, and eat and drink gatherings at fancy restaurants near the capitol.  These lobbyists are at this moment, pressing forward their legislative agenda up close and personal, directly with lawmakers on a daily basis.

While regular working people do not have the luxury of hosting fancy gatherings in downtown Honolulu, we do have people power on our side.  But we must use it, and we must show up and press our case before these same legislators.

Please take a moment today to call and to email the below 6 key legislators.  Then email please your own district Representative and your Senator, TODAY – asking that they support raising the minimum wage to $17 per hour and eventually to a living wage, phased in over time.

While it is too early to quote a bill #, it is not too early to ask for their support.  

Without the involvement of regular working people, the voice of the corporate lobbyists will dominate the conversation.

Regular working people, students and families struggling just to make ends meet, must find the time to get involved and have their voices heard as well.

The message must be loud, clear and persistent (as in professional, courteous and continuous), that a minimum wage must be a living wage.

  1.  The 6 most influential legislators for this issue are:

Representative Aaron Johanson, Chair House Labor Committee

Representative Sylvia Luke , Chair House Finance Committee,

Representative Scott Saiki , Speaker of the House,

Senator Brian Taniguchi, Chair Senator Labor Committee,

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, Chair Senate Ways and Means,

Senator Ronald Kouchi, Senate President,

2) You can locate your specific legislator and the contact information at

3) AND please also email ALL Senators and ALL Representatives at these two email addresses: and 


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A Progressive’s Perspective – On 2019 Legislative Session

What do we want?  Justice.

When do we want it?  Now

This is the essence and mantra of progressive values.

Here in Hawaii, we’ve been waiting far too long and there is no good reason why we should have to wait any longer.

Here in Hawaii, where members of the Democratic Party are in total control of both the legislative and the administrative branches at the State and County government levels, it shouldn’t be so hard.

According to the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s 2018 Platform, “We (Democrats) believe that the current minimum wage is a starvation wage and must be increased to a living wage.”  Yet, Hawaii’s Democratically controlled legislature refuses to pass legislation that even attempts to phase in a living wage minimum over time.

According to a 2017 report by the Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism, the minimum hourly wage to support a single adult (without children) with shelter, food, clothing, and medical care is $17.41 per hour.

Yet, the minimum wage in Hawaii sits frozen at only $10.10 per hour.

One would hope that those who truly believe in economic justice, would also believe that anyone working 40 hours per week deserves to earn a wage that will provide basic shelter, food, and medical care. 

The truth is there is a price to pay no matter what.  Either employers can pay their workers a living wage or government must fill the gap via food, rent, and medical subsidies.

Incentivizing work by rewarding labor with an honest and living wage is a far better solution than, legalizing tent cities, passing “sit lie bans”, or otherwise criminalizing the poor and disenfranchised.

Regardless of the ideological label one wears, one way or another, we all pay the price for injustice.  The societal costs to abject poverty and homelessness are inescapable and the sooner we confront this fact and implement the appropriate public policies necessary to deal with it, the better – for all of us.

While I currently serve as Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, I do not write “A Progressive’s Perspective” in that capacity, but simply as a progressive democrat who finds the glacial rate of change in Hawaii unacceptable.  Whether it be economic, environmental, or social justice, the elected office holders in Hawaii continue to take too long to do too little.

The historical norm is that hardworking advocates trek the halls of the capitol, kowtowing to the powerful (mostly) men in suits.  As they huddle earnestly presenting their research and fact-finding, they are reminded by those in the know to be thankful for the policy wins they have gained in the past (however modest they may have been) and warned not to bite the hand that feeds them by being unreasonable, intemperate, or otherwise disrespectful. 

Ever the optimist, I am hopeful that 2019 will be different.

The 2018 Hawaii elections that featured numerous highly qualified progressive candidates, combined with the growing blue wave that is sweeping the continent, is changing the conversation here in Hawaii and akamai political incumbents get it.  

It is a forgone conclusion that the elections of 2020 will feature an even larger number of progressive challengers, with more experience, greater name recognition, and even more funding behind them.  The message will be about the slow pace of justice, that the incremental change offered by incumbents is woefully inadequate, and that “any ole blue won’t do”.

The emergence and growing strength of several local advocacy groups, adds another important element to the formula needed for progressive policy wins during the 2019 legislative session.  The Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA), Our Revolution, and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are just three of the many organizations that are actively meeting and recruiting new members among millennials and others who have grown beyond weary of the old guard’s resistance to change.

This new wave of civic activism gave legislators this past session a taste of what’s to come as supporters marched the capitol halls loudly protesting the failure of a Bill allowing graduate students to unionize.  Another Bill allowing “Initiative and Referendum”, and killed in the dead of the night by a single committee chairman, further infuriated and frustrated this group particularly.  You can be sure that during the 2019 session their numbers will be larger.  There is already talk of an “occupy the capitol” effort and many expect Wednesday January 16, opening day of the 2019 legislative session, to be an especially lively one.

I doubt if a few crumbs of incremental change thrown toward core economic, environmental, and social justice issues are going to satisfy anyone this time around.  Activated residents, young and old, are more aware and more empowered than ever before.  

There are many pressing issues on the table, and the days of being told to pick just one and be happy with it, are over.

The passing of a living wage bill that phases hourly rate increases in over time until a living wage threshold is reached, is a reasonable ask, especially when you are asking a legislature dominated by Democrats.  Likewise, meaningful steps toward true criminal justice reform, new dedicated funding for public education, protection of our reefs, the legalization of cannabis, automatic voter registration, and publicly funded elections are all needed now.  

If the political will is there, bold progress can be made on each of these issues in 2019.  Each has been thoroughly vetted in the past (either in Hawaii on in other states), several actually generate new funding, and none are particularly risky or fraught with unknown or unintended consequences. 

The hard but often unspoken truth is that the lack of action by the legislature serves to perpetuate the injustice that is carried on the backs of low income working people, our natural environment, and our island home as a whole.  Good people work hard every day and yet still cannot afford rent.  The poor remain in jail while the rich walk free.  Our reefs are dying before our eyes.  The general public has lost faith in our political system.  Our public education system is crumbling due to our neglect.

Legislators that profess support for liberal and progressive values are firmly in control.   

Will these leaders now act and vote in alignment with the ideals they espouse and the people they represent? 

Those of us leaning furthest left can only hope we don’t fall over waiting.  And to be clear, waiting is something we are no longer good at.

First Published in Civil Beat, December 2018

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Legislative Session Primer – 30 Days Out

The 2019 legislative session officially opens on January 16th, and concludes 60 “session days” later on May 2, “sine die” (traditional term used to adjourn the legislature – Latin for “proceedings that have been adjourned”).

“Session days” are those days set aside for formal business when “floor votes” are held and official business is conducted by the entire legislative body.  The State Constitution designates the business of the legislature must start and stop on specific days, and that there be 60 “session days” in which the official business is to be conducted.  Interspersed with “session days” are “recess days”.  Historically “recess days” were utilized by legislators to “go back to the district” and consult with constituents on the issues that are on their agenda.  However, today’s practice is for legislative hearings and other business to continue at the capitol, with most observers not even being aware the day was officially designated as a “recess day”.

The typical day of a legislator, whether a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, revolves around the consideration of “Bills”.  A Bill is a proposed law, either a new law or the proposed amendment to an existing one.  Senators or Representative will each introduce various Bills, some of which are requested by constituents (impacting local schools, parks, or local issues) and others that are deemed by the legislator important to their particular subject matter interest (agriculture, environment, health, transportation, etc).

The entire legislative body consists of 25 Senators and 51 Representatives, and if the 2019 session follows past trends over 3,000 Bills will be introduced.  A great many of these Bills will be duplicate in nature, as many legislators are concerned about similar issues.  For example there may be 4 or 5 or more Bills introduced dealing with increasing the minimum wage.  Other Bills will be introduced “by request” which means the legislator is introducing the measure as a favor to a constituent or special interest.  Still other Bills will be introduced by a legislator “for show” knowing full well the measure will have no hope of passing into law.

At the end on the session, upon sine die, the legislature will have passed between 250 and 300 Bills forward for signing into law, or veto by the governor. Most of the “new laws” will actually be more along the lines of “housekeeping” or minor tweaks to existing law with only a handful  breaking new ground and thus making the headlines.  Some of the possible “hot button issues” that will no doubt be high on the legislative agenda during 2019 include increasing the state’s minimum wage to $17 per hour phased in over time, legalizing cannabis for responsible adult use, increasing funding for education, bail reform, the establishment of a new “carbon tax” and more.

As in every legislative body, the task that consumes a majority of the time and energy is passage of the budget.  Each and every one of the 76 legislators will be pushing and fighting for “their piece of the pie” and trying to increase funding for roads, schools, parks and other facilities located in their particular district.

Now, approximately 30 days away from the start of the session, is the time for constituents to reach out directly to their Senator and Representative to lobby for both policy and budget support.  Though many are slipping into vacation mode, it is still a good time to have your thoughts heard, prior to the start of the session.  Once January 16th arrives, the pace of work launches quickly into overdrive and the competition for legislator time and bandwidth becomes a challenge.

The #1 tool for anyone serious about influencing the legislative process can be found at  On this website is all the information anyone will need to identify the proposed Bills, track their process, and submit testimony.  Also available here is the contact information and committee assignments of each and every legislator.  Another invaluable public and free resource is the Public Access Room, located at Room #401 on the 4th floor of the capitol .  Here you can access computers, printers and obtain current information on Bills, timelines and the legislative process.

In future columns I will be providing legislative updates on those issues that appear most interesting, and will likely have the most tangible impact on people and the environment.  I strongly encourage all, to reach out directly and communicate with your legislator about issues that are important to you.  At the minimum, ask them “When are you going to do something about the traffic?” 😉

First published in The Garden Island newspaper, Hooser – Policy & Politics 12/12/18

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2018 Election Summary of PHI Endorsed Candidates

During the 2018 elections, Pono Hawaii Initiative (PHI) a 501C4 nonprofit organization of which I am the Executive Director, endorsed and supported 32 candidates for public office at the state legislative and county council level on all islands.

At the end of the day, 15 of the 32 candidates endorsed by PHI were successfully elected to public office.  To be clear, each is responsible for their own success at the polls and each ran first class campaigns, working very, very hard over many months.

  • 5 of these successful candidates are graduates of the non partisan Kuleana Academy leadership and campaign training program, sponsored by the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA).
  • 10 are women
  • 5 on the Maui County Council now constitute a majority

The successful PHI endorsed candidates now serving in public office:

State Senate – Jarrett Keohokalole District 24, Sharon Moriwaki District 12

State House of Representatives – Richard Creagan District 5, *Amy Perruso District 46, *Tina Wildberger District 11

Kauai County Council – Mason Chock, Felicia Cowden

Maui County Council – *Tamara Paltin, *Keani Rawlins-Fernandez,  *Shane Sinenci, Tasha

Kama and Kelly King 

Hawaii County Council – Maile David, Rebecca Villegas, Karen Eoff

*Indicates a HAPA Kuleana Academy graduate

Information on how to apply for the upcoming 2019 Kuleana Academy is available here:

Information on all Pono Hawaii Initiative endorsed candidates is here:

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