Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Senate approval of Water Commission nominee no victory for Governor

by Larry Geller

I’m told that Governor Neil Abercrombie was present in the Senate chamber today, flanked by his two appointees, as the Senate briefly debated and then confirmed both.

Many community groups and individuals are convinced that Ted Yamamura, one of the nominees, is not qualified to have been appointed in the first place, and there is also the question of why the Water Commission has been stacked with four out of the five commissioners from Maui. Ian Lind also reported this morning that Yamamura’s consulting firm “counts most of Hawaii’s major companies and corporate landowners among its clients, raising additional concerns about conflicts.”

So the Governor has succeeded once again in seating a questionable nominee. Is that a victory? If one agrees with those who object, then the Governor has acted against the public interest.

This is just the latest in a string of nominations that have drawn attention and significant press coverage.

Today’s Senate approval is no victory for the Governor because he did not engage those who objected and convince them of the soundness of his choice. There was just a gubernatorial diktat, a choice imposed. The reasons for opposition were worthy, at the very least.

Of course, one can also fault Senators who voted to confirm.

The press has lit up too often with reports of either controversy surrounding the Governor’s appointments or with news of their sudden departure from his service.

Shortly after he took office, Abercrombie defied a directive by the Office of Information Practices to release the names on a list of judicial nominees. He reacted by removing the director of OIP and making it impossible for her to drop back into a staff position. He then appointed a new director. In the end, a court ruled that the list had to be released, and his new director has been criticized for her interpretation of the Sunshine Law, for refusing to issue opinions, and for introducing questionable legislation during this session. So Abercrombie’s OIP appointment was no victory, he had to cough up that list anyway. Meanwhile, one can argue that his action against OIP has weakened its authority and effectiveness.

The Governor has been plagued with resignations ranging from his chief of staff to the most recent, Joe Booker, Deputy Director of Corrections in the Department of Public Safety. Booker resigned suddenly last week. It has become a running joke that the reason given for resignations has been “to spend more time with the family,” and this was no exception—the DPS director explained that Booker is moving to New Mexico where he can be closer to his children.

So far there has been no “tell all” story emerging to indicate what it is that has caused these appointees to eject themselves like popcorn from a popper, and no insight into why Abercrombie chooses to install board and commission appointees with conflicts of interest, that is to say, connection to business rather than loyalty to the public.

Recently the Senate confirmed three governor’s appointees to the Hawaii Health Connector who have clear conflicts of interest since they work for the state’s largest insurers. One of them is HMSA’s chief lobbyist. Could not the governor have found someone else in HMSA with the required expertise other than a well-known lobbyist?

There will be future appointments as terms expire over the coming months. It may be too much to hope for a change in this governor’s selection process, but the law provides that the Senate must confirm most (not all) of the nominees.

Perhaps we should work at convincing our legislative representatives that they should be thinking of their duty to confirm as a responsibility to their constituents, not as a mere rubber stamp on a list the governor has handed down.


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