Declare truce over UH regents and correct flawed law
Gov. Linda Lingle has decided to allow six University of Hawaii regents whose terms expired last week to remain on the board.
Democratic legislators were successful in a power play two years ago to strip Gov. Linda Lingle of much of her authority to appoint University of Hawaii regents. The Republican governor has showed she also can play hardball by legally allowing six regents to continue serving for two years beyond the expiration date of their terms. Lingle and legislators should find a bipartisan way to end the stalemate.
Voters approved a seemingly innocuous state constitutional amendment in 2006 that provided for regents to be limited to candidates approved by a screening panel. In this year's session, the Senate voted 16-9 against a second four-year term for Kitty Lagareta, a Lingle adviser and outspoken critic of the Legislature's involvement with UH.
In a June 20 letter to the board's chairman, Lingle said she would ask Lagareta and five other regents -- Byron Bender, student regent Michael Dahilig, Ramon de la Pena, Marlene Hapai and Jane Tatibouet -- to remain on the board beyond the June 30 expiration of their terms.
State law specifically permits the governor to allow a state board member to "continue in office as a holdover member until a successor is nominated and appointed." The holdover can remain on the board up until the end of the Legislature's second regular session following the expiration date of the regent's stated term. Thus, the law clearly permits the six holdovers to remain on the board at the governor's request until the end of May 2010.
"I think clearly these are experienced people whose continued service will serve the best interests of the students and the state," Lingle said glibly.
A law enacted in tandem with the constitutional amendment provides that the screening committee comprise seven members, one each appointed by the Senate president, the House speaker, the governor, the faculty senate, the student caucus, former regents and the alumni association.
Three years ago, Richard T. Ingram, then president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, advised against loading a screening committee with such "special interest representatives." Doing so could jeopardize the university's accreditation.
Legislators should solicit recommendations from university accreditors and change the law to comply with their standards. Lingle's action in extending the terms of the six regents allows the Legislature time to correct its reckless mistake in its coming session.
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