Under the Sun
Rejection of White is a rejection of change
LEGISLATORS' advise and consent of an executive's nominee gives citizens a bit of assurance that the person is qualified to take on an important job.
Sometimes the process works and sometimes it doesn't, as in the case of Alberto Gonzales who, despite a thin professional resume fattened by his abundant loyalty to his pal and patron, George W. Bush, was confirmed to become the nation's highest law enforcement officer.
It also didn't work in the case of Iwalani White, the former Family Court judge and prosecutor who was rejected for arguably the toughest job in the state's line up. Called director of the Department of Public Safety, the stripped-down version of the title means you run the state prisons.
Gonzales has become entangled in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys who were described as not being "loyal Bushies" because they snubbed the administration's priorities for prosecutions.
What he initially dismissed as an "overblown personnel matter" is now a conflagration in Congress that has the attorney general prepping and practicing for the intense scrutiny he will face when he goes to Capitol Hill to explain why his story about his involvement in the firings and that of his former aide and others don't exactly mesh.
He will have to explain the plan, outlined in emails among his lieutenants, to replace the fired attorneys with more favored legal eagles, using a overlooked provision -- now revoked -- in the Patriot Act that eliminated Congress' role in appointments.
Gonzales, Bush's personal attorney both in and out of the White House, was given the Republican-led Senate's approval to succeed John Ashcroft. His from-the-bootstraps history was cynically deployed by the president as a buffer to his lack of experience and to doubts about his ability to evenly enforce the law without influence from the administration's political operatives.
White, Gov. Linda Lingle's choice for prisons director, also has a bootstraps story. Raised in Kuhio Park Terrace, she was an unmotivated student, and even after getting help to enroll at the University of Hawaii, blew off her opportunity for an education.
Getting pregnant and landing on the welfare rolls finally set her straight. She earned a bachelor's and a law degree and went to work as a city prosecutor, eventually moving up the ladder until she became a top deputy. As a Family Court judge, she became known as "The Hammer" for her refusal to allow law-breakers to rationalize misdeeds because of their poor stations in life.
That nickname, regrettably, was used against her as a state Senate committee rejected her nomination, setting the stage for the full Senate to turn down her appointment.
Being head of prisons is a demanding job. If Hawaii's facilities were model prisons, it would still be difficult and given the current situation, it's a wonder White was willing to take it on. But she was and in eight months as interim director, she shook up the department, making some employees unhappy in the process.
They complained. She was mean, they said. She went against the flow, they didn't like her style.
Far more people spoke for her. She spoke up for herself. But in the end, senators chose to say no to an agent for change for a department that so badly needs it.
The job has been vacant for more than two years. Anyone who'd like to volunteer should call the governor. I'll bet her phone won't be ringing.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com