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Senate panel rejects
"What's troublesome to the committee is the number of individuals who testified in opposition," said Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe).
The negative recommendation means Nonaka's nomination is likely to be voted down when it goes before the full Senate in the coming week.
"I feel I did all I could today, and it didn't turn out my way," said Nonaka, a former Marine and currently a UH-Hilo student senator. "There were some factors I couldn't control related to that."
Hee said the committee received 15 submissions of testimony in support of Nonaka's nomination and 217 in opposition. Supporters included fellow students from the Hilo campus, faculty and administrators, including Chancellor Rose Tseng.
Most of the opposition was submitted as form letters signed by students or brief e-mail statements sent to the committee focusing primarily on Nonaka's support of tuition increases at the university.
Nonaka said his previous statements in support of tuition hikes were misconstrued.
"I have never actually said I support the tuition increase," he said. "My position has always been, I see the need for a tuition increase, and unless we come up with a better solution, I cannot support just saying no to a tuition increase at the expense of the quality of our education."
He said the root of the problem for the UH system is a lack of money, and a tuition increase is one of several ideas he would study as a way to fix that problem.
Nonaka said he confronted at least one student on the Hilo campus who was asking students to sign a form letter saying they opposed tuition increases. The letter actually stated that the signer was opposed to Nonaka's appointment, he said.
Nonaka, a 1999 graduate of Konawaena High School, said at least four people who signed the letter were friends who later told him they did not fully read what they had signed. He said he was unsure if similar petition drives took place elsewhere.
"I thought it was pretty clear that a lot of that testimony was bogus," Nonaka said after the hearing.
Sen. Gordon Trimble, the committee's lone Republican, said he was troubled by the form letters and noted that many had been sent in to the committee from the same fax number. "I found that disturbing," Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki) said.
Nonaka is the second regent nominee rejected by the higher education committee this month. Last week, the committee rejected the nomination of interim regent John K. Kai, a Hilo businessman. Hee said he felt Kai did not show an appropriate knowledge of university policies and procedures, despite being on the job on an interim basis since last summer.