Debate rages over regents' procedure
The governor would pick from a list under one ballot measure
What voters decide on Question 1 of the state constitutional amendments will determine the selection of a majority of the 12-member Board of Regents next year.
The board oversees operations of the 10-campus University of Hawaii system and the performance of its top administrators.
There will be seven vacancies on the board in 2007 -- six terms expire next year and one position is vacant.
The question asks if the governor should be required to select regents based on a pool of candidates recommend by a candidate advisory council.
If voters approve it, the Legislature would have to pass a law to create the committee to screen candidates for the unpaid positions on the board and the governor would have to select nominees from the committee's list.
If the amendment fails, the governor will continue to appoint regents and the Senate would be able to confirm or deny their nominations.
The main arguments -- both for and against the amendment -- revolve around taking politics out of the selection process.
Proponents say creating a screening process would take politics out of the governor's appointments.
Opponents say a commission made up of special interests would insert more politics into selection of regents.
"I truly don't believe the intent here is to improve the quality of the regents. It's to put control of the university back in the hands of the Legislature," said Kitty Lagareta, a long-time supporter of Gov. Lingle and chairwoman of the Board of Regents.
Sen. Gary Hoosier, a Democrat who introduced a bill last year creating a candidate advisory council, disagrees.
"Selecting people from a broad range of sectors of the community and then asking them to go out and recruit and screen and look for candidates, I think that would be less political," said Hoosier, who said nine of the 11 current members of the Board of Regents contributed money to Lingle.
Retired attorney Frank Boas, one of the main backers of the amendment, said if regents were selected for their merit, campaign donations wouldn't be an issue.
The Senate has also rejected three of Lingle's regent nominees and the governor withdrew the nomination of a student regent.
"The nominating process has become a political football between the governor and the Legislature," Boas said. "The present system is really politicized."
But Lagareta said having the governor appoint regents is a better way to appoint than creating a committee where special interests can push candidates who will look out for their interests rather than the overall well-being of the university.
Making tough decisions like raising tuition requires regents to be independent and not beholden to lawmakers, faculty or other campus groups, Lagareta said.
"The cleanest politics is where there is accountability. It's very clean when the governor picks," Lagareta said. "There is accountability to the governor and to some degree the Senate."
UH President David McClain said he is not taking a position on the amendment.
McClain said a screening committee is a " good concept." But he said the commission proposed by the Legislature last year gives seats on the committee to faculty, students and the House and Senate, which is not recommended by a national association of university governing boards and has raised concerns from commissions that oversee the university's accreditation.
Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, wrote a letter to Lagareta last month expressing her concerns about the selection committee proposed by the Legislature.
"The proposed composition of the advisory committee may create a direct means for the government to become more involved in the university's governance," Beno wrote.
Hoosier's bill creating the selection committee was vetoed by the governor in 2005.
Boas said the veto allows the public to help craft a new committee next year if the amendment passes.
The focus, Boas said, should not be on the vetoed bill, but on the basic question of whether having a selection committee is a good idea.
Lagareta, however, is skeptical that the Legislature will be able to create a selection committee that will really look out for the best interests of the university.
"How trusting are you that the sausage will come out right?" Lagareta said. "I'm not."