Sunday, March 15, 2015


Dealmaking for Ching in the Senate—Land and Politics in Hawaii

The people’s needs and concepts of their environment once again are colliding with a political agenda of development and patronage.

by Larry Geller

Strangely, Gov. Ige is being in-your-face active in promoting his DLNR nominee Carleton Ching. Several on-line accounts document his public outburst during the Senate committee’s questioning of the nominee last week.

Ige should know better. That he persists in the face of massive public opposition to his candidate indicates that he may have a specific purpose in pushing poorly qualified Ching over a potentially better choice for the job.

That’s all the more reason the Senate should turn down this nominee. But will they? Richard Borreca knows Hawaii politics. Today he wrote (snip):

The 25-member body is mostly made up of comfortable Ige allies. They worked for his election, backed him against former Gov. Neil Abercrombie after having relied on him as their steady Ways and Means Committee chairman.

Now as governor, Ige is asking his friends to first disregard a strong rejection of Ching by the Senate Water and Land Committee, and then to ignore the full-court press of the potent environmental lobby.

[Star-Advertiser p.E1, Senators’ vote on Ching: Gov or environmentalists?, 3/15/2015]

Resurrecting the PLDC

The downside risk here is that Ching may implement the PLDC policies that the public thought were dealt with already. Interestingly, he may also be in a position to fulfill deals made with senators in exchange for their votes. These deals are allegedly being negotiated already.

Can enough votes be bought? Quite probably. Ige already has three assured “yes” votes, based on statements at the committee hearing: Brickwood Galuteria, Sam Slom and Les Ihara. All he needs is ten more. Some “friends of Ige” will already favor approving the nomination, others may be persuadable.

Heard anything?

What have you heard in the halls of the State Capitol about deals for votes? Email

Some dealmaking hasn’t been well hidden. Ige’s “people” do this for him, of course. Some words have been heard in the open. Of course, if you ask your senator if they’ve been approached or offered anything in exchange for their vote, they can be expected to deny it. You can try asking, though. Their emails are on this web page.

Offering deals for votes is not surprising. What is interesting is that Ching, if approved on the Senate floor, could be in a position to fulfill whatever promises are made in exchange for “yes” votes.

In Hawaii, land is power. Land is economic power to developers, and hence a source of political power to politicians who cater to them. The result is top-down imposition of development rights and wrangling with constituents who demand that their legislators respond also to their needs. Ching offered the committee that he would "balance" competing interests. That would be refreshing, but this nominee shows no signs of being willing to support the public interest. See the snip from a Hawaii’s Thousand Friends message below.

This is what’s at stake with this nomination: The people’s needs and concepts of their environment once again are colliding with a political agenda of development and patronage.

Advocates are not happy at the moment—Hoopili is moving forward, meaning that prime agricultural land will be lost forever. It shouldn’t happen, yet it appears inevitable. Now this. Will the public remember Ige’s actions, come the next election? From Borreca:

David Frankel, chairman of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club, noted that the local environment movement is united against the Ching nomination and it has become an important part of local politics.

"Any senator who has aspirations for higher office has to realize that this vote for Carleton Ching will haunt him. And others facing competitive races will also be haunted by their vote," Frankel said.

Still, it is quite possible that the needed 13 votes will be found to approve Governor Ige’s nomination. As to haunting, should Ching be approved and turn out ok, no haunting. Should his actions thwart the public interest, he’ll still be doing that come the next election, so long memories won’t be required, and Frankel’s warning could be realized.

The potential for accelerated top-down driven development is very real and very threatening if Ching is approved. The downside risk is simply too great, and for that reason, senators should hold out for a better nominee. Sure, Ching might change his stripes. But he might not. He doesn’t answer to voters once seated.

He likely will have to attend to any deals made that put him there, though.

The Hawaii Thousand Friends position does not yet appear on their web page. Here is a snip from the email circulated today:

During the Senate Water & Land Committee hearing on March 11, Mr. Ching:

  • referred to the 'aina as "dirt"
  • described Hawaii's natural resources as its "brand"
  • when asked a hypothetical question about how he would decide priorities for the last remaining 10% of a native forest, he said he would "balance" competing interests (e.g., commercial vs. preservation)
  • said it's all about protecting public land, but private land is a little different
  • claimed that Hawaii is a real-life laboratory, and that we have been able to balance and sustain our economy

The StarAdvertiser editorial of 3/14/15 entitled Waste no time in voting down DLNR nominee provides a good summary of why Carleton Ching should not be confirmed.  An excerpt: 

"What Ching didn't bring, however, was any clear understanding of the agency's core mission or vision for how he would approach challenges of resource management. Neither was there any real sign that he had enough interest in the issues to bone up on the administrative processes he would be shepherding.

To read the full editorial, click here.

Related: Panel Recommends Ching Nomination Be Rejected (Civil Beat, 3/12/2015)


If 13 vote NO and there is retaliation, then the 13 have the votes to re-align the Senate leadership

Hawaii's Thousand Friends is already on the record as OPPOSING this DLNR nomination along with the Outdoor Circle, Sierra Club and so forth!

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