Gov. Abercrombie with Ted Yamamura to his left and Jonathan Starr to his right. Behind them is state Comptroller Dean Seki (wearing leis). Photo by Mel

BY JIM DOOLEY – A concerted effort by environmental groups and dozens of individuals to block the appointment of Maui businessman Ted Yamamura to the state Commission on Water Resource Management fell fall short of the mark today in the state Senate.

Sen. Clayton Hee and a handful of colleagues spoke passionately against Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s selection of Yamamura, a real estate appraiser, to serve on the commission.

Front row, left to right, Jonathan Starr, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Ted Yamamura. Comptroller Dean Seki (wearing leis) is behind them. Photo by Mel

But in the end, senators voted 19-6 to approve Yamamura. Another Maui man, Jonathan Starr, was approved for another seat on the commission by a 22-3 vote.

Hee echoed arguments from the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends that Yamamura was unqualified to serve on the commission.

State law says commission commissioners must have “substantial  experience in the area of water resource management.”

Hee, D- 23 Dist. (Kahuku, La’ie, Ka’a’awa, Kane’ohe), said he believed Yamamura is “a fine gentlemen” but is unqualified for the job.

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, D- 2nd Dist. (Kunia Village, Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Whitmore, Hale‘iwa, Mokule‘ia, Waialua and Sunset Beach), chairman of the Water and Land Use Committee, argued for Yamamura’s confirmation, noting that he has served on the Maui Board of Water Supply.

Other opponents argued that if Yamamura and Starr were approved, four of the five commissioners would be from Maui, creating a geographical imbalance on the panel.

That argument provoked strong objections from several Neighbor Island senators.

The Senate also approved Abercrombie’s nomination of Dean Seki to serve as state Comptroller. Seki replaces Bruce Coppa, who is now Abercrombie’s chief of staff.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com