Panel’s refusal of Cabinet appointee a first
Citing an "unprecedented" amount of negative testimony, a Senate panel rejected Gov. Linda Lingle's nominee to head the Department of Public Safety.
While several of the GOP governor's nominees for judgeships and the University of Hawaii Board of Regents have been rejected by majority Democrats, yesterday's recommendation against Iwalani D. White marked the first time it has happened to a Cabinet appointee.
The vote by the Senate Public Safety Committee fell 3-1 along party lines against White's confirmation.
Her nomination now goes to the Senate floor for a vote by the full 25-member chamber, which still could confirm White over the recommendation of the committee.
Two weeks ago the Senate approved Lingle's nomination of Oahu Circuit Judge Glenn Kim despite rejection of his nomination by the chamber's Judiciary Committee.
"I would like to extend my gratitude and thanks to the committee for their hard work and their careful consideration, as this is an important decision," White said in brief comments afterward. "We're looking forward to the Senate vote ... but we're going to continue our (lobbying) efforts."
Public Safety Chairman Will Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach) said the amount of testimony against White made her nomination vastly different from Kim's case.
"I have spoken with some of my colleagues, and they are being lobbied by both sides," Espero said. "To date, I haven't heard any indication that the Senate will go against my recommendation.
"However, there's still time for forces on both sides to influence the senators."
The committee's lone Republican criticized the recommendation, noting that none of the testimony had questioned White's ability to lead the department.
"A lot of it appears to be personality conflicts, or just personal dislike over the way she runs the department, but nothing in terms of flaws in her character that would somehow prevent her from being able to do her job," said Sen. Paul Whalen (R, Milolii-Waimea). "Any time you go to a department and try to make changes, people aren't going to like it."
In a written statement, Gov. Lingle said, "I believe that Iwalani White is the right person at the right time for this job, and therefore I believe the committee reached the wrong decision this afternoon.
"Over the past seven months, Iwalani has proven to be an effective director of a department that has very tough challenges. Iwalani has brought stability to the department and structure to the staff, which was made clear by the number of Public Safety Department employees who turned out to testify in her favor," Lingle said.
The committee heard about 10 hours of testimony over two days last week.
About a dozen current and former employees testified against White's nomination, citing a management style that has led to low morale and feelings of ill will.
Questioning of White, a former Honolulu deputy prosecutor, focused on her handling of internal investigation of complaints.
Employees, nine of whom were subpoenaed to testify, said White never fully communicated to them the reasons for being investigated, leading to uncertainty about their job status.
Others said they were put on leave without pay after theft allegations made by a single source. Although no criminal charges were filed, the employees still face an administrative investigation to determine whether any department policies were broken.
Over the two days of hearings, Espero said he received about 21 pieces of testimony against White and 78 in support. Since last week, he said, he has received an additional 55 e-mails and faxes against White, mostly form letters, and 10 testimonies in support.
"It is unprecedented to receive this many individuals opposed to the nominee, or any nominee," Espero said. "Despite Ms. White's record of accomplishment and public service, I do not believe she is the right person to lead the department in the coming years."
The nomination is expected to go the Senate floor sometime next week.