Guard leadership bill faces veto
The measure requires five years in the Guard for state defense chiefs
Gov. Linda Lingle says she plans to veto a bill that would require future directors of the state Department of Defense to have served as officers in the Hawaii National Guard for five years.
Her decision is expected to be challenged by Democrats in the Legislature, who might have enough votes and time to override her decision before the session ends May 4.
Rep. Mark Takai, one of the bill's co-sponsors, declined to discuss the situation until the governor takes action.
The bill, which passed the state House on March 3 and then was adopted by the Senate on April 11, follows the lead of 44 other states that have similar job restrictions.
The Senate made minor changes to the bill, and when the House agreed to the amendments on Monday, only nine Republican lawmakers in the 51-member body opposed it.
During a radio interview yesterday, Lingle said the bill "ties the governor's hands" by limiting the job of state adjutant general to only officers of the Hawaii Air and Army National Guard.
Current law only specifies that the head of the state Department of Defense -- who also serves as director of state Civil Defense -- has to serve as a military officer for 10 years.
"This bill clearly is not in the state's best interest. It is not in the Guard's best interest because it limits the number of people a governor could choose from for this very important position," Lingle said in the interview.
The bill would exempt the state's current adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, who would be eligible for reappointment to the Cabinet-level post if Lingle was re-elected this fall. Lingle said Lee was a career Army reservist, having served as its Pacific area head before assuming his current post three years ago.
"The military today is highly integrated," Lingle said.
But Takai defended the House measure, saying, "We're not discrediting all those other service members who could function as the state adjutant general."
Besides Lee, the only other state adjutant general since statehood who was not a member of the Hawaii National Guard was retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Benjamin Webster, who was appointed by Gov. John Burns and served from 1966-73.
Gov. John Waihee also dipped into the ranks of the Army Reserve when he chose Brig. Gen. Eugene Imai to lead the Hawaii Army National Guard in 1998.
The change is supported by several past adjutants general, including retired Maj. Gens. Edward "Butch" Correa and Edward Richardson, all products of the Hawaii Guard system.
Lee and representatives from the state Office of Veteran Services, Chamber Commerce of Hawaii, the Oahu Veterans Council, and the Hawaii Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust and Local 368 of the Laborers' International Union of North America oppose the bill.