Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D.
Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, is a recognized scholar, public policy spokesman and community leader in Hawaii. In 2016, Akina was elected to statewide public office as trustee-at-large for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. He is an expert in East-West philosophy and ethics, has taught at universities in China and the United States, and continues as an adjunct instructor at Hawaii Pacific University. He holds advanced degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hawaii.
Executive vice president
Joe Kent grew up on the Big Island and attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Minnesota State University, where he obtained his degree in education. Kent was a public school teacher for eight years, at King Kamehameha III School in Lahaina, Maui, and Sleepy Eye Public School in Minnesota. He also is a former student fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education.
Malia Blom Hill
Director of policy
Malia Hill comes to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii with a background in law, politics and communications. She completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Saint Mary’s University and obtained her J.D. from the Catholic University of America. After working in Hawaii politics at the state level, including a brief period with the Office of Rep. Mark Moses, she went on to work for several advocacy groups based in Washington, D.C., where she currently resides. As policy director for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, she works on both national and state issues affecting the future of Hawaii.
Director of development
Sean Mitsui is a graduate from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a major in finance and minor in political science. He was born and raised in Hawaii, but also has lived in Japan and California. Mitsui worked at a local insurance company before joining the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. During his spare time, he is an avid runner who participates very year in the Honolulu Marathon. He also enjoys reading books about history and economics.
Director of communications
Joshua Mason was born in Utah, raised in Oklahoma, and moved to Hawaii in 2011 to attend BYU-Hawaii, from which he graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and music. Before joining the Grassroot Institute, he worked as a managing editor for BYU-Hawaii’s Ke Alaka’i, one of the nation’s top-ranked college publications, earning first place in the College Media Association’s 2017 annual awards for Best Social Media Presence in the nation. He also was a teacher for a year with the state Department of Education, and has worked as a content creator for consulting firms and nonprofits. He is fluent in Spanish and enjoys reading books about leadership and organizations.
Managing editor, writer
Mark Coleman is a veteran journalist who spent almost three decades with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, a decade with Honolulu-based Pacific Business News, and two years with the Pacific Daily News on Guam. He has communication degrees from Florida State University and the University of Hawaii, was a Herbert J. Davenport Fellow in Business and Economic Reporting at the University of Missouri, reported from Japan as part of an International Press Institute journalist exchange program, and is a former Hawaii chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He also has been published widely as a freelance writer.
David Swann is a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in history. He was born and raised in Huntsville, Ala., and is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He was an editorial cartoonist for the Huntsville Times in northern Alabama for nine years before settling in Hawaii in 1994. He worked as a graphic artist for the Honolulu Advertiser until 1997, then switched to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for 19 years, as both papers merged to become the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He has won numerous local and national awards for graphics, cartoons and illustrations.
Aaron Lief was born on Kauai and raised on Oahu. He spent four years as a geospatial intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force, with the 6th Intelligence Squadron in South Korea and 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron in Florida. Aaron joined the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii as a researcher and writer while attending Hawaii Pacific University, from which he graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. His work for the Grassroot Institute has focused mostly on medical regulation, privatization, land use and housing.
Born and raised in Somers Point, N.J., Nicholas DeSimone is a University of Pennsylvania graduate with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Before joining the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, he worked as a research assistant on privatization for the Reason Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., and as an acquisitions assistant at the Independent Institute, based in Oakland, CA. His writings on privatization, health care, housing, criminal justice reform and other topics have been published by the Reason Foundation, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Mises Wire, Watchdog.org, The Daily Caller, Townhall.com, and the Washington Examiner, among others.
Jackson Grubbe graduated summa cum laude from BYU-Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in English and a legal studies certificate. Originally from Oregon, he has lived in Hawaii since 2015 and started writing for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii while working as a prospect analyst and marketing coordinator for Kahala Aesthetica. In 2018, Jackson presented two of his humanities research papers at the National Literature Conference in Ogden, Utah. He also produced and co-hosted the Xeno Podcast, in which he explored various aspects of culture and creativity by interviewing professors and college students about their research projects. The topics that interest him most are land use, housing and public safety.
Jonathan Helton was born and raised in Tennessee. He currently attends Freed-Hardeman University, in Henderson, Tenn., where he is majoring in law and politics with a minor in business. During high school, he was part of a competitive speech and debate club and competed on the state and national level, which sparked his passion for policy research. During his senior year of high school, he interned at the Tennessee Eagle Forum and the Kennedy Law Firm PLLC, where he helped write a forthcoming book on Christianity and the law. Since enrolling at Freed-Hardeman, he has worked as a research assistant for John E Talbott & Associates PLLC. His research focuses primarily on the Jones Act.