Many see vote as political
IRS to Bishop trustees: Resign
Budget director oustedBy Craig Gima
The state Senate today rejected Margery Bronster's nomination to a second term as the state's attorney general in a 14-to-11 vote.
Bronster and supporters and opponents watched in a packed Senate gallery as the vote was taken after about 2-1/2 hours of debate. The vote on Bronster had been too close to call, with a large number of undecided senators and other senators who switched sides in the hours leading up to the vote.
"In 1999, the confirmation of Margery Bronster will define this Senate," said Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani), who said he received more calls and letters on this issue than any other.
"Ms. Bronster has been a solid and often stellar attorney general," said Sen. Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo).
He said Bronster is not perfect, but has "been fearless when it comes to advocacy for the people of Hawaii."
Sen. Jonathan Chun (D, Lihue) spoke in opposition to Bronster.
"I need to be as comfortable as the governor with her legal advice and her character," Chun said.
However, he said concerns about her management style and delays in legal opinions and what he sees as advocacy within her opinions does not give him confidence in her.
Bronster is expected to step down as attorney general. It was not clear if she would or could accept a position to continue on as a special counsel on the Bishop Estate investigation.
Despite the setback, Gov. Ben Cayetano vowed earlier in the week that the vote would not end the investigation of the estate.
"It's going to continue because the ball has started to roll and we're too far along the way," Cayetano said on Monday.
Cayetano today said Bronster has done a tremendous job as attorney general.
The debate over Bronster had overshadowed much of what was happening in the Legislature in the 12 days since her April 16 confirmation hearing. The nomination was held as Senate Judiciary Co-Chairmen Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) and Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) tried to gather the necessary votes to confirm Bronster, and it was finally brought to the floor today.
Bronster and Cayetano made personal visits to senators, but that apparently did not sway many undecideds. While the concerns expressed by some senators over Bronster's management ability may have been sincere, the fight over her nomination was also about controversy and politics over the Bishop Estate and an internal reorganization struggle in the Senate.
At one point last week, the governor urged that state Sen. Marshall Ige (D, Kaneohe) recuse himself from the vote because he has been named in the Bishop Estate investigation. The attorney general alleged that the estate paid an $18,261 campaign debt for Ige in a bogus billing scheme. However, even if Ige had recused himself, Bronster would still have fallen short of the majority she needed for confirmation.
Yesterday, supporters at a Capitol rally warned of consequences for those who vote against her.
The Vote on Bronster
Yes (11):Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa, North Shore)
Avery B. Chumbley (D, East Maui, North Kauai)
Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Palama, Alewa Heights)
Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Waikiki)
Lorraine R. Inouye (D, North Hilo, Kohala)
Randy Iwase (D, Mililani, Waipio Gentry)
Andrew Levin (D, Kau, Kona)
Matt Matsunaga (D, Waialae, Palolo)
Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua, Salt Lake)
Sam Slom (R, Kalama Valley, Aina Haina)
Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa, McCully).
No (14):Whitney Anderson (R, Kailua, Waimanalo)
Jan Yagi Buen (D, North/West Maui, Molokai, Lanai)
Jonathan Chun (D, South Kauai, Niihau)
Carol Fukunaga (D, Tantalus-Makiki)
Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae, Maili, Makaha)
David Ige (D, Pearlridge, Pacific Palisades)
Marshall Ige (D, Kaneohe, Enchanted Lake)
Brian Kanno (D, Ewa Beach, Makakilo)
Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu, Pearl City)
David M. Matsuura (D, South Hilo, Puna)
Norman Mizuguchi (D, Fort Shafter, Aiea)
Bob Nakata (D, Kaneohe, Kahuku, Heeia)
Rod Tam (D, Downtown, Nuuanu)
Joe Tanaka (D, Wailuku, Upcountry, Kahului)
"Those senators, if they are going to play politics, need to know that there are citizens here who are not going to stand for it," said attorney Beadie Dawson, who formerly represented the group Na Pua a Ke Ali'i Pauahi, an association pushing for reform in the Bishop Estate.
Despite Dawson's warning, the attorney general's battle with the estate is just one of many subplots in a political drama in the Senate.
The vote is being viewed as a prelude to a leadership fight and appears to have altered relationships among senators, between the Senate and the governor, and between the governor and the state's largest government worker union.
"If the vote comes out fractionalized as it appears to be, no, I do not believe the Senate will be the same," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae). "I believe it (the vote) will draw lines for people."
Judiciary Co-Chairmen Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) and Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) agreed.
"The organization of the Senate is always fragile," Matsunaga said.
The Judiciary Committee recommended Bronster be confirmed, but breaking with a long-standing practice, Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) refused to say yesterday if he would support his Judiciary chairmen.
"I told the full Senate that you vote your conscience and you're going to live with that vote in political life," Mizuguchi said.
He denied that the vote in the Senate is being influenced by internal strife.
By Kathyrn Bender, Star-Bulletin
A crowd turned out at the Capitol yesterday to
show support for the confirmation of Margery
Bronster as attorney general. Today the Senate
rejected Bronster, 14-11
"It's not about Senate organization," he said. "I have great respect for the committee chairs."
Mizuguchi said the issue over Bronster's nomination is about concerns senators have over her management style and other issues.
He cited the lack of support for teachers involved in the Felix consent decree, delays in making legal decisions, the attorney general's opinion on the constitutional convention and a proposal to exempt the state hospital from the privatization law.
But Gov. Ben Cayetano said internal politics is playing a role in the fight over Bronster and his budget director, Earl Anzai.
"I think there are people in positions of leadership right now who are worried about losing their positions and want to make deals with other factions so they can save their necks," Cayetano said yesterday.
Cayetano also said Mizuguchi's decision on Bronster was influenced by the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
"I think the HGEA is very influential with Sen. Mizuguchi," Cayetano said. "If he switches, then it will be unfortunate. Perhaps it's a sign of the leadership they have in the Senate."
The HGEA is officially neutral on Bronster's confirmation, and a union official last week denied that there was any effort to derail Bronster's nomination. But Cayetano said he "knew for a fact" that the union was actively lobbying against her.
Cayetano implied that other forces were behind the union's anti-Bronster effort.
"I think that those of us who know Hawaii know that there are pressures and interests that go far beyond the ranks of labor. People in this state -- everyone knows each other, and that influences people," he said.
Beyond what the vote may mean internally, senators are also conscious of how it will play with voters.
"I know I'm taking a risk on this," said Sen. Jonathan Chun (D, Lihue), who held a press conference yesterday to explain in detail his decision to vote against Bronster.
He insisted that his decision has nothing to do with the Bishop Estate controversy.
"I know there are people out there who find her very popular, but I'm not going to make a decision based on popularity," Chun said.
Chun said he was voting against Bronster because of delays by the attorney general's office in issuing legal opinions for departments, and said Bronster tries to influence policy decisions through her office's opinions.
He added that the attention on Bronster's nomination has diverted attention from the budget, ceded lands settlement and other issues that still need to be worked on before the scheduled close of the session next week.
Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua) said nominations should have been voted on earlier so the Legislature could focus on passing bills in the last week of the session.
"Now the session is the Bronster session," Sakamoto said.
Here's what Attorney General Margery Bronster has told lawmakers she's done so far and her own job description:
Duties: "Many believe that the attorney general's role is nothing more than the private counsel to advocate for individual departments or agencies. That is not the case. Certainly, we advocate for the state of Hawaii, providing a defense in litigation. More importantly, the Department of the Attorney General is responsible to preserve and uphold the state's laws and constitution for all the citizens of Hawaii."
Responsibilities: Current fiscal year budget of $57.7 million and 459 full-time equivalent positions from all funds.
Ended federal oversight of the state prison system.
Hired outside attorneys on a contingency basis for major lawsuits against the tobacco and gas companies.
Merged departmental units to minimize duplicative work.
Settled the state's case over Aloha Stadium defects for more than $12 million.
Implemented improvements to collect multimillion-dollar traffic fines and judgments.
Bishop Estate investigation: "The magnitude and complexity of this investigation continues to require expertise in large white-collar investigations, accounting, and experts in trust administration and operations not available through present resources. The number of opposing counsel has risen to over 10 private law firms, exclusive of in-house staff counsels. "
Budget director ousted
IRS to Bishop trustees: ResignBishop Estate archive
Lilly sees a parallel
in AG fight
The Senate battle over Bronster'sBy Craig Gima
position recalls his 1985 rejection
The last time the Senate rejected an attorney general nominee was in 1985, when the Judiciary Committee refused to send Gov. George Ariyoshi's nomination of Michael Lilly to the Senate floor.
Lilly, now an attorney in private practice, sees parallels between his experience and the Margery Bronster nomination fight.
"I think it's obviously a political process," Lilly said.He said he was caught in the middle of a battle between the Legislature and the governor and believes Bronster is a victim of that as well.
"I think that's exactly what's happened to Bronster . . . that the governor and the Legislature are at odds with one another. The governor has taken such tough choices and made decisions that the Legislature doesn't agree with," he said.
Lilly believes Bronster is doing a good job and should be confirmed but sees the irony in her situation, because one of the senators who led the effort to reject Lilly was then-dissident Ben Cayetano."They say what goes around comes around."
"Ah, history comes back again," Cayetano said when asked about Lilly's nomination. However, he said the situation in 1985 and Bronster's current troubles are different.
"In that particular case the attorney general had a conflict. The nominee had a conflict and there were some serious questions about that particular conflict. In this particular case, there's no conflict. There's no question about the attorney general's character, as was the issue the last time."
During Lilly's confirmation fight, Cayetano and other critics raised several issues, including a charge that Lilly was present and condoned beatings during a shakedown at Oahu Community Correctional Center and that he was slow to investigate the collapse of Manoa Finance Co.
Lilly said he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the prison shakedown and many of the other issues raised in the committee. He said he would have been confirmed had his nomination gone to the floor.
After Lilly was rejected by the Judiciary Committee, Ariyoshi kept him on as attorney general until Lilly resigned a month after the Legislature adjourned to avoid a lengthy court battle over the confirmation. He said he is proud of what he accomplished during the short time he served as attorney general.
He points to the establishment of the criminal justice unit in the office, which was headed by Keith Kaneshiro.
"It's ironic that the unit that I created 14 years ago is the unit that's now prosecuting some of Bishop Estate trustees' alleged crimes," he said.
Lilly said his rejection turned out to be a blessing. After leaving government service, he founded a successful law firm . He said he is very happy in private practice.
Hawaii Revised Statutes