Kali Watson nominated to lead Hawaiian Home Lands

Feb. 22—Gov. Josh Green has nominated Kali Watson, a former state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands director, to lead the agency after a failed bid to have nominee Ikaika Anderson confirmed for the job.

Green announced Anderson's would-be replacement this morning, saying that Watson has a proven track record of housing Native Hawaiians that will help the agency fulfill a plan to spend $600 million helping beneficiaries of DHHL where around 28,700 applicants are on a waitlist for homesteads.

"I am hopeful that state senators and our communities will be supportive of his nomination as we face a critical time in Hawaii," Green said in a statement. "Kali has the track record to provide stewardship for the $600 million DHHL appropriation."

Watson led DHHL from 1995 to 1998 under then-Gov. Ben Cayetano.

According to Green's announcement, Watson coordinated the development of more than 3,100 residential lots on DHHL land, and presided over a $600 million legislative settlement between the state and DHHL in 1995.

Settlement proceeds were distributed over 20 years, and the deal also included transferring 16,518 acres of state land to the agency.

In recent decades, Watson has led a nonprofit affordable-housing and commercial project development firm he founded, the Hawaiian Community Development Board, which has built or refurbished about 1,400 affordable homes on Oahu and Maui often with partners.

Watson said in a statement that he is honored for the nomination.

"I've been working in the Hawaiian homesteading communities for most of my life, both as a past DHHL director and through my nonprofit. And being the new director with the $600 million from our supportive legislature, we can definitely do so much more, especially if we work collectively," he said.

Watson's nomination is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

A Senate committee on Feb. 14 voted 4-1 to not recommend Anderson's confirmation by the full Senate. That led Anderson, a former Honolulu City Council chair who unsuccessfully ran last year for lieutenant governor, to withdraw himself from consideration.

However, under state law, Anderson, who has been leading DHHL as director designate since Jan 3., will stay on the job until the Senate makes a confirmation or until the legislative session ends if that happens first.