Gov. Ige’s Fifth-floor Woes Commence
Gov. David Ige stubbed his toe last week, bruised his knee, as well, and may have suffered hairline fractures in one or both of his gubernatorial legs. Only time, X-rays and future legislative votes will tell.
He tripped, of course, on his failure to muster sufficient votes to ratify his appointment of Castle and Cooke vice president Carleton Ching to head the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Moments before the Senate was to vote last week, gubernatorial chief of staff Mike McCartney delivered a letter from his boss to Senate President Donna Mercado Kim withdrawing Ching’s nomination.
Between them, Ige and McCartney logged 29 years in the state Senate. They know how it works and they know how to count its votes. Going into last week, despite Ching’s failure to receive an endorsement from the Senate’s Committee on Water and Land, they thought they had 13 votes to confirm his nomination.
It was always a close thing. At one point, it was reported the Senate’s 25 votes were split: 12 for, 12 against, 1 undecided.
Somebody, or -bodies, caved. At least two Democrats admit to it: Sens. Les Ihara and Susanne Chun-Oakland.
So much for one of the new governor’s vaunted strengths: his good relations with members of the Legislature.
What went wrong?
Read Henry Adams, a descendant of two presidents of the United States. In his The Education of Henry Adams, he famously wrote, “A friend in power is a friend lost.”
Ige enjoyed respect and affection from his former colleagues, but it’s a long way from Senate’s second-floor offices to the governor’s suite on the fifth floor. In his appointment of Ching, Ige asked his former colleagues to do a difficult thing: Vote for a vice president of a one of the state’s largest developers to head a department charged with protecting the state’s land and water.
On the face of it, that’s an unfriendly act. People recoil at the vision of a fox in the henhouse, a developer watching over the aina — too easily caricatured, too easily attacked.
The testimony before the Senate’s Water and Land Committee showed it; it ran against Ching’s appointment. Legislators weigh that stuff; they don’t always vote it, but they weigh it.
The members of the Water and Land Committee subjected Ching to five hours of questioning. Committee chairwoman Laura Thielen, a former DLNR director in Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration, led the inquisition. Sen. Sam Slom likened it to “a public colonoscopy.”
Thielen pronounced Ching unqualified for the job. Fellow freshmen Sens. Russell
Ruderman and Gil Riviere joined her, and Sens. Maile Shimabukuro and Ihara in voting against Ching’s appointment. Sens. Slom and Brickwood Galuteria voted for it.
Ihara told the press that, if a vote on the appointment got to the floor of the Senate, he’d vote for it. One almost got there, but then he announced he wouldn’t have voted for it.
Ching goes back to Castle and Cooke; he’s been on leave from his vice presidency there since the announcement of his appointment in January.
That’s a tougher call. He doesn’t rattle easily, nor does he appear to carry grudges. Being Ige, he’s probably nursed his wounds and scheduled Thielen for a long, long talk about what she thinks required of a director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.