Dems’ move on UH board
a brazen power grab


The state Legislature has given preliminary approval to bills that would peel away the governor's power to appoint University of Hawaii regents.

CHANGING the way University of Hawaii regents are selected, as proposed in by measures before the Legislature, would unnecessarily complicate the appointment process and inject lawmakers and others into the province of the executive branch.

Despite claims to the contrary, the proposed changes are a blatant power grab by Democrats in the state Legislature, an attempt to curb the authority of a Republican governor.

Current law allows senators to reject a governor's nominees to the Board of Regents, which they were not hesitant to do twice in 2003. This provides sufficient restraints on executive appointments, but legislators want more.

The measures they have approved preliminarily would set up an advisory council to propose candidates from which the governor may choose. The council would consist of 12 members, two appointed by legislative leaders, one by the governor and the others by faculty and public worker unions, students, alumni and professional organizations, such as the bar and medical associations.

The bills also cut the number of regents from 12 to 11, extend board terms from four years to 10 and seek voter approval of the constitutional change.

Democrats maintain that all of this is needed because the current system "has the potential for being overly political" and interferes "with the desire of the Legislature to increase autonomy of the University of Hawaii system."

Their "political" concerns can be traced to the board's firing of UH president Evan Dobelle, which some suspect was payback for Dobelle's endorsement of Linda Lingle's Democratic opponent in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign. That notion is unfounded, however, since four of the regents had been appointed by Governor Lingle's Democratic predecessor and Dobelle's dismissal was warranted.

Some of Lingle's appointees to the Board of Regents, such as Kitty Lagareta and Jane Tatibouet, are close political associates, but the makeup of an advisory council would do little to remove politics from the process of choosing board members. What it would do is add layers to slow the process. In addition, lengthening members' terms to 10 years holds the potential for creating an entrenched panel.

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