Our Team

Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D.

Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D., is a recognized scholar, public policy spokesperson and community leader in Hawai’i. A graduate of Kamehameha Schools, he holds advanced degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hawaii, is an expert in East-West philosophy and ethics, and has taught at universities in China and the United States, including Hawaii Pacific University. In 2016 and again in 2020, he was elected to statewide public office as trustee-at-large for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. 

Joe Kent
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.

Sean Mitsui
Finance director

Sean Mitsui is a graduate from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa 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 every year in the Honolulu Marathon. He also enjoys reading books about history and economics.

Malia Blom Hill
Policy director

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.

Mark Coleman
Managing editor, communications director

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 Hawai’i, 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.

Ted Kefalas
Director of strategic campaigns

Ted Kefalas is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he double majored in political science and media studies while playing football for the Virginia Cavaliers. Prior to joining the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, he worked as a government affairs and crisis communications professional with Capital Results in Richmond, Va., representing clients in diverse industries nationwide. His experience and established relationships help him build coalitions and view policy issues with a distinct point of view.

Jonathan Helton
Policy researcher

Jonathan Helton is a summa cum laude graduate of Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee where he earned a bachelor’s degree in law and politics. He has worked for two law firms, multiple forensics organizations and in social media marketing. While still at the university, he interned with the Tennessee General Assembly in the office of Bo Watson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Ways and Means. In addition to the Grassroot Institute, his work has been published by The Maui News, the Honolulu-Star Advertiser, TravelPulse, RealClear Politics, the Mises Institute and other publications.

Brenner Danielson
Marketing associate

Brenner Danielson is a 2023 summa cum laude graduate of Hawaii Pacific University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration focusing on finance and economics. His dual minors were in international studies and marketing. Outside of work, he enjoys SCUBA diving, bodysurfing and hiking.

Melissa Rabideau
Assistant to the executive 
vice president

Melissa Rabideau was born in San Diego, Calif., and raised in Phoenix, Ariz., where she graduated from Cactus High School. As a young adult, she moved to Seattle, Wash., where she graduated from Olympic College. She has lived in Hawaii since 2018. She is a longtime business management and administrative professional. 


David Swann
Cartoonist, illustrator

David Swann is a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in history. He was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, 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.

Sarah Zoellick
Copy editor, writer

Sarah Zoellick is a former reporter at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, where she covered three consecutive sessions of the Hawaii Legislature. She has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, where she also minored in business and sociology. Following three years as an award-winning criminal justice reporter in Cheyenne, Wyoming, she signed on with the largest healthcare system in southwest Ohio as a writer and coordinator of its internal communications. She now lives in northern Colorado, soaking in high-altitude sunsets and spending most of her days with her young son.

Melissa Newsham
Research associate

Melissa Newsham developed a passion for public policy while a student in Honolulu at Punahou School, where she was editor of the school newspaper. Post high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. She has been published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Honolulu Civil Beat, the Washington Examiner, and Japan Forward. In addition to her work for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, she is a full-time risk management associate at PNC Bank in Chicago, where she resides with her husband. 

Drew Luff
Research associate

Andrew Luff is a junior at Radford High School who moved to Hawaii in June 2022. As the son of a U.S. Navy officer, he has lived in Virginia, Connecticut, Washington state, Italy and Georgia, and visited 26 countries. Also a fellow with Hawai’i’s Housing Future, he is fascinated by what causes our cities to look the way that they do and what we can do to make them better. In his free time, he enjoys running, cycling, and hiking. 

Peter Bochner
Copy editor, writer

Peter Bochner is a veteran computer industry journalist and editor. A graduate of North Arlington High School in New Jersey, he has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in science journalism, both from Boston University. He is a regular contributor to differentbrains.com, a website devoted to neurodiversity. He also has edited books on autism and historical fiction, and has written extensively about issues pertaining to health.


Charley Myers

Charley Myers began his career as a photographer after graduating from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. A resident of Hawaii since 1957 and a  graduate of Roosevelt High School, he has worked as a photographer for the Hawaii Institute for Geophysics, Bishop Museum and the Queen’s Medical Center. He also has broad freelance experience. Samples of his work are posted at charleymyers.net and charleymyers.com. When not behind a camera, he might be found playing guitar in bands around town.

Kevin Lewis
Digital and print designer

Kevin Lewis began his career in graphic arts at a small Honolulu print shop. Now a design professional living in Vermont, he has a bachelor of arts degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He also has art-directed for National Life of Vermont, web-designed for national e-tailer Gardener’s Supply, and freelanced for a variety of clients. For 25 years, he has published the Hinesburg Record, an independent, nonprofit, small-town newspaper. His portfolio and full background can be found at klworks.net. When he’s not designing or publishing, he enjoys sketching, skiing, gardening and, whenever possible, surfing

Jake Sylvester
Video editor

Jake Sylvester is a freelance video editor who creates and manages videos and related content for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s YouTube channel. For other clients, he produces content for advertisements, documentaries and software tutorials. The Los Angeles resident has a bachelor’s degree in film from California State University, Northridge, and began his video editing career by interning at a large advertising firm.