BY JIM DOOLEY – The State Senate Higher Education Committee today rejected two of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s nominations to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, saying the nominees, both from the Big Island, appeared to lack the necessary “enthusiasm and commitment” for service as regents.
Committee Chair Sen. Jill Tokuda, D-24th (Kaneohe, Kaneohe MCAB, Kailua, Enchanted Lake), also strongly criticized the regent appointment process, saying a screening council which provides the names of possible nominees to the governor refused to give Abercrombie the names of additional possible appointees when he asked for them.
The Senate committee voted down the nominations of Sandra Scarr and Patrick Naughton to serve as regents – the first such rejections of Abercrombie appointments by the Senate since he took office in January.
The committee approved three other nominees and all five names will be voted on by the entire Senate.
If the Senate rejects Scarr and Naughton, Abercrombie will not be able to name replacements this year unless the Legislature meets again in special session.
Speaking of Scarr and Naughton, Tokuda said, “What was very disconcerting for the committee was perhaps some of the responses we received both written and verbally from the nominees, the enthusiasm with which they approached the situation and their commitment to the board as a whole.”
Tokuda said lawmakers must “do our best for the students of the University of Hawaii system and that means we have to hold all of the regents nominees to the highest standards and demand from them nothing less. Unfortunately in the case of these two, I think that was not the case.”
Abercrombie said through spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz that “the selection process is clearly not working” and that he will be asking the Regents Candidates Advisory Council for a new list of nominees.
The Regents Candidates Advisory Council was created under a constitutional amendment and 2007 law seen as a legislative curb on then-Governor Linda Lingle’s ability to appoint regents of her own choosing.
Lingle vetoed the law but the Legislature overrode her veto.
The seven members of the council are appointed by the governor, Senate president, House speaker, the UH faculty senate, the UH student caucus, the UH alumni association and the association of emeritus regents.
Senator Sam Slom R-8th (Hawai’i Kai, ‘Aina Haina, Kahala, Diamond Head), a member of the Higher Education Committee, has been a vocal critic of the 2007 law and said after today’s vote, “I told them at the time they passed this law it was going to come back and bite them and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
Slom also asserted that “the governor asked the (advisory) council for more names and they refused.”
Karl Fujii, a private businessman who chairs the council, said, the council submitted the names of two possible nominees for each of the two Big Island vacancies on the Big Island.
And he indicated that once those names were submitted to Abercrombie, the council’s work was done.
“The list that we submit is the list. If there’s no (regent) vacancy or notification of a vacancy from the governor, our council is not really activated.”
Under the law, the council can submit two to four names per vacancy but gave Abercrombie the minimum of two candidates for each Big Island vacancy, Fuji said.
How many names are submitted is “at the discretion of the council,” he said.
Three names from the council list of nominees were approved by the committee today: Jan Sullivan, an attorney and chief operating officer of Oceanit, a science and engineering firm; Coralie Matayoshi, an attorney and chief executive of the Hawaii Red Cross; and Saedene Ota, owner of a creative design firm on Maui.
Sullivan’s father, attorney Roy Takeyama, is a former UH regent and chaired the Regents Selection Advisory Council until his daughter was nominated as a regent. Takeyama told Hawaii Reporter that he resigned from the council rather than declare a conflict of interest.
Another member of the council, state Superintendant of Education Kathryn Matayoshi, is a relative of nominee Coralie Matayoshi. Kathryn Matayoshi recused herself from discussions of Coralie Matayoshi’s candidacy.
Senator Tokuda said today the selection process needs to be fixed.
“Hindsight being what it is, clearly it was an issue that we should have done better back then,” said Tokuda
“For the last three years that I have been chair of Higher Education, I have raised concerns with the process,” she continued.
Today’s vote “is our way as a committee of saying this is not working and clearly we need to do more in the interim and next session to fix it,” Tokuda said.
The final vote was 4 noes (Sens. Jill Tokuda, Michelle Kidani, Suzanne Chun Oakland and Clarence Nishihara; and two votes for yes with reservations Brian Taniguchi and Sam Slom).