Hanabusa reorganizes Senate panels
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa shuffled the committee chairmanships yesterday of two Senate Democrats who were criticized for abusing their authority as committee leaders.
Another senator, Jill Tokuda, will also head a new committee.
Hanabusa moved Sen. Clayton Hee from the chairmanship of the Judiciary and Labor Committee to a newly formed Water and Land Committee.
Sen. Brian Taniguchi, who had been chairman of the Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing Committee, will take over Hee's Judiciary committee.
Sen. Russell Kokubun will lead the commerce committee. Kokubun was chairman of the Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, which Hanabusa split, with Hee getting water and land use and freshman Democrat Tokuda running a newly created Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.
During the 2007 Legislature recently concluded, Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) was at the center of a series of controversies over his handling of the powerful Judiciary panel.
Hee recommended that the Senate reject Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Kim as a Circuit Court judge, saying he lacked the proper temperament. The Senate overrode Hee's recommendation and confirmed Kim.
Hee also wrote a committee report that said Attorney General Mark Bennett was condoning nepotism because Bennett's wife was an attorney with the office.
During the session, Hanabusa took the unusual action of giving a speech from the Senate floor defending Bennett and noting that Bennett had disclosed his wife's position in 2003.
Kokubun was also a controversial chairman this year as he headed the committee that rejected Peter Young as director of the Land and Natural Resources Department despite strong support from conservationists, environmentalists and native Hawaiian organizations.
Republican Sen. Sam Slom called the work done in the Judiciary committee under Hee "an embarrassment not only to the Republicans and the public, but also the Democratic majority."
"I see this as a strategic move to cut her losses and move on," Slom said of Hanabusa.
Hanabusa said she was trying to put her fellow Democrats into positions "to make the best use of their talents."
"It is a matter of knowing what the committee chairs are able to do," Hanabusa said.
Hanabusa said neither Hee nor Kokubun was being punished, noting that Kokubun's commerce committee ranks along Judiciary and Ways and Means as among the most important in the Senate.
As for Hee, Hanabusa said the issues of water and land use closely match the concerns in his rural district, Windward Oahu to Kahuku.
Hee said his new committee will allow him to help his district.
"There are several issues regarding the North Shore that directly impact on water and land use policy, such as plans for resort development at Kawela Bay," he said.
Hee explained that when the Senate organized this year, he had asked for the chairmanship of the consumer protection Committee, but Hanabusa had asked him to take the Judiciary committee to help organize the Senate.
Yesterday, Hanabusa recalled that she had first asked Taniguchi to head the Judiciary committee after he lost control of the Ways and Means Committee, but he did not want Judiciary at that time.
"Sen. Taniguchi is an attorney, and I think we will be well served," Hanabusa said.