Sen. Ige now a
He says he will avoidBy Mike Yuen
a conflict of interest and
not lobby his peers
Senate Consumer Protection Co-Chairman David Ige is now the lobbyist for his employer, GTE Hawaiian Tel, but he says there will be no conflict of interest between his legislative role and his lobbying job.
The Pearl City Democrat will, for example, lobby only federal and county officials -- not state officials or his legislative colleagues.
But Desmond Byrne, chairman of the watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii, says: "I don't believe legislators should be lobbyists. I'm not comfortable with legislators being lobbyists for corporations, although they might say they can divide up their roles.
"I just feel it compromises their independence as a legislator.
"But I'm not saying there's anything legally wrong with it."
Ige's colleagues acknowledge that his new role for Hawaiian Tel could at the very least create the appearance of a conflict of interest. But they also give Ige high marks for integrity.
"David is an honest individual of the highest character," says Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani).
"I trust him to conduct himself appropriately."
At the beginning of the year, Hawaiian Tel promoted Ige, 41, from network design senior administrator to governmental affairs director. It was a position for which he applied, Ige says.
Now, instead of the company's governmental affairs director lobbying at all levels of government, it is the responsibility of Hawaiian Tel's vice president for external affairs and Ige's boss, Joel Matsunaga, to lobby legislators and other state officials.
The redefined responsibilities for Hawaiian Tel's governmental affairs director mean Ige doesn't have to register as a lobbyist with the state Ethics Commission -- which he hasn't -- but he has to register with the city -- which he has.
Ige's predecessor, William Santos, was registered with the state as a lobbyist.
Matsunaga says he had discussions with Ige, both before and after Ige was promoted, on the need to negate potential conflicts of interest.
Ige, a 16-year Hawaiian Tel employee who takes an unpaid leave of absence during the legislative session, says his fellow Consumer Protection co-chairman, Sen. Wayne Metcalf (D, Hilo), is responsible for matters relating to the Public Utilities Commission.
And since Hawaiian Tel is an industry regulated by the PUC and most of its concerns come before the commission, his co-chairmanship of the Senate panel should not be a conflict of interest, Ige adds.
Moreover, he has discussed with Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) and Senate staff attorneys his new Hawaiian Tel position and he won't vote on matters that present a conflict, Ige says.
"I work very hard at ensuring that any potential conflict is . . . taken care of," Ige stresses.
Common Cause's Byrne says it is important for lawmakers to declare potential conflicts of interest during committee votes, not just during floor votes. Historically, House and Senate leaders have usually declared no conflict and allowed legislators raising the question of their potential conflicts to go ahead and take part in floor votes, Byrne says.
He hopes that Ige will recuse himself from telecommunications bills that come up for a vote, Byrne adds.