WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 26, 2014) — The U.S. Senate unanimousley Confirmed Hawaii’s Esther Puakela Kia‘aina as Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) had previously introduced Kiaaina’s nomination during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing last November.
“The Senate’s overwhelming support for Esther’s nomination speaks to her strong qualifications to serve as DOI Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs,” Hirono said. “I have no doubt she will serve with distinction and make Hawaii proud.”
Fellow Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, said that President Obama recognized a tremendous individual for this important post in Kia‘aina.
“Her confirmation is a testament to her distinguished career and expertise on Native Hawaiian issues and land management,” Schatz said. “Esther is an exceptional addition to the Department of the Interior and will serve well as Assistant Secretary.”
Prior to her nomination, Esther Kiaaina served as the First Deputy Director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources for the State of Hawaii, a position she has held since 2012. Previously, she served as Chief Advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from 2009 to 2011 and from 2007 to 2009, she was a Land Asset Manager for the Kamehameha Schools Land Asset Division.
Kiaaina served as Chief of Staff for Congressman Ed Case from 2003 to 2007. From 1999 to 2003, she was Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Congressman Robert Underwood. Kiaaina served as a Legislative Assistant for Senator Daniel Akaka from 1990 to 1999. Kiaaina received a B.A. from the University of Southern California and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School.
Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) released the following statements to applaud the Confirmation.
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), CAPAC Chair, said that with this confirmation, Kiaaina is now the highest-ranking Native Hawaiian to serve in the Obama Administration.
“Her wealth of legislative and policy expertise on issues impacting the insular areas will be an asset to the Department of Interior, and I have no doubt that she will excel in her new role,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, CAPAC Vice Chair, said the people of Guam congratulate Kia‘aina, who has a proven track record of working to advance Pacific Islander issues, and extensive knowledge of the many challenges affecting Guam, the other territories, and Freely Associated States.
“I am confident that she will be a strong advocate in the Administration for our issues, and I look forward to working with her as she assumes her new position,” Bordallo said. “We have a lot of work that needs her leadership and guidance at Interior.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (CA-17), CAPAC Chair Emeritus, said he was thrilled that his dear friend Kia‘aina was confirmed.
“It has been a pleasure working with her throughout my time in Washington,” Honda said. “She has the environmental, management, and government experience to do an outstanding job. I can’t wait to see what she will do at the Interior Department. Her confirmation is great for the AAPI community, the environment, and our nation.”
U.S. Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (AS), said he is especially proud of Kia‘aina becoming the highest-ranking Native Hawaiian presidential nominee in the Obama Administration.
“As American Samoa’s congressional representative, I look forward to working closely with Ms. Kia‘āina on issues affecting the insular areas,” he said. “Given her wealth of experience on Capitol Hill, years of service to the State of Hawai‘i, and keen understanding of issues affecting the Territories and Freely Associated States, I am confident that she will be an extraordinary asset to the Department.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), said Kia‘aina is a Native Hawaiian born on Guam, who has worked more than two decades on Capitol Hill.
“I’m confident she will use her deep local knowledge and senior management experience to affect positive change for her new region of responsibility in the Pacific,” Gabbard said.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), said Kia‘aina is a Kamehameha Schools graduate, who has served in important roles in the Hawaii and Guam congressional delegations here in Washington, as well as back home in Hawaii for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“I believe her experience and her leadership will make her a successful advocate for the Insular Areas,” she added.
U.S. Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (CNMI), said the office Kia‘aina will be heading plays a vital role in helping the Northern Mariana Islands and the other U.S. insular areas develop our economies, build public infrastructure, and nurture our human resources.
“I know that, as Assistant Secretary, Ms. Kia‘aina will bring a new sense of urgency and direction to those efforts,” he said. “And I thank President Obama for filling this vital position with a person of Ms. Kia‘aina’s energy and expertise. She and I have known each other since the 1980s, when we worked together for Hawai‘i Senator Daniel K. Inouye. I look forward to working together again, she as Assistant Secretary and I as Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee responsible for insular affairs, for the benefit of America’s island jurisdictions.”