Bill limits applicants for top isle general
"Star power" from former top brass helped move a bill that would require future adjutant generals to be an officer in the Hawaii National Guard for at least five years.
However, the measure was opposed by Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, the current adjutant general, and some other members of the National Guard.
The Senate Education and Military Affairs Committee endorsed the bill setting the qualifications for the adjutant general, or head of the state Department of Defense and the National Guard, after reviewing the written and oral testimony yesterday from six retired Hawaii Army and Air National Guard generals and others.
The measure, which passed the 51-member House on March 2 with only 11 dissenting votes, now goes to the full Senate for a floor vote.
Current state law requires only that the head of the 6,000-member Hawaii Army and Air National Guard hold at least the rank of major and have served as a commissioned officer for at least 10 years in any military service.
Lee, who was pulled by Gov. Linda Lingle from the ranks of the Army Reserve four years ago to serve as the adjutant general, said he "was disappointed" in the decision by the committee, chaired by Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village).
Lee, who would be exempt from the membership requirement if Lingle wins re-election and wants to reappoint him, said, "Hawaii is going to be shortchanged."
He added that the House measure "sort of smells like a residency law," and predicted that if enacted, it would be subject to a lawsuit.
Lee pointed out that the Wyoming National Guard tried unsuccessfully several years ago to bar a Utah officer from assuming a high post.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Edward "Butch" Correa, who served as adjutant general under Gov. Ben Cayetano, said 45 states have similar membership requirements.
He told the committee that "the reserves and active duty promote their own to major command positions."
Retired Maj. Gen. Edward Richardson, who served two terms as adjutant general, said that besides Hawaii, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri do not require its leaders to have National Guard experience.
In written testimony, retired Maj. Gen. Mike Tice, a 37-year Hawaii Air Guard veteran and former commander of the 154th Wing, charged that Lingle "politicized" the selection process when she excluded key senior leaders of the Hawaii National Guard and chose Lee and retired Army Reserve Col. Gary Ishikawa as the department's deputy.
Tice said several key leaders of the Hawaii National Guard, including himself and retired Maj. Gen. Dennis Kamimura, former commander of the 29th Brigade, applied for the adjutant general's position but were never even granted an interview by Lingle.
Lee said the House bill "promotes a National Guard-only mentality" by limiting the governor's choice to only members of the Hawaii Guard.
State Rep. Mark Takai (D, Newtown-Pearl City), a Hawaii Army National Guard medical officer and one of the co-sponsors of the bill, dismissed claims by Republican Rep. Mark Moses that the bill was "another attempt (by Democrats) to take powers away from the governor."
Takai said one of the National Guard's missions is to serve the state in time of natural and man-made disasters. "The state mission is paramount," said Takai. "It must be the focus of the National Guard.
"Although there may be many qualified military officers, it takes being in the National Guard for at least five years to understand that unique state mission."