No takers emerge for state labor director
With just 16 days left in this legislative session, Gov. Linda Lingle is running out of time to find a replacement for her labor director, Nelson Befitel.
In December, Lingle announced that Befitel wanted to return to his private law practice and she would pick a new labor director.
But Monday, Lingle sent out a news release saying the post was still open and asking for potential applicants to write her office.
"It has been a challenge," Lingle said yesterday during an interview.
In her news release, Lingle described the labor director's duties as promoting access to employment, alleviating the economic hardship of workers during periods of disability and protecting worker employment rights and a safe workplace.
During his four years with the Labor Department, Befitel, an attorney and family friend of Lingle's, has lobbied for changes in workers' compensation laws favored by Lingle and opposed by the Legislature.
Lingle said she didn't think her strong positions regarding state labor laws were affecting the search for a new director.
"It doesn't have to be someone who leans one way or the other. Nelson, for instance, comes from a labor background," Lingle said.
"We will be checking with our friends in the unions and asking them if them know the appropriate people," Lingle said.
This year's Democrat-controlled Senate has already rejected one of Lingle's Cabinet nominees: Iwalani White as public safety director. Lingle was asked if the Senate's scrutiny might be driving away candidates.
"I'm sure it does filter out some people who don't want their backgrounds probed," Lingle said, but "it is the Senate's job and responsibility to determine if these people would be good."
Befitel, Lingle said, doesn't want to remain in government service, adding that as a personal friend she doesn't want "to take advantage of his relationship with me," to ask him to remain.
The problems in finding a replacement are not the fault of the Senate, according to Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.
Hanabusa, who had been a leader in a successful effort to dump two of Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano's Cabinet officers, said Lingle should not have so much trouble finding a candidate.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the scrutiny," Hanabusa (D-Nanakuli-Makua) said.
"We have had this kind of scrutiny in the past. That is not the reason why this administration is having difficulty finding people to serve," Hanabusa said.
The Senate, Hanabusa added, doesn't have a political litmus test that Labor Department nominees must pass.
"What the Senate is looking for is someone who is qualified and can do the job, not their political orientation," Hanabusa said.