The nomination of William Aila Jr. will get an up-or-down vote Thursday after Senate Democrats met in caucus to hash out concerns.

Senate President Shan Tsutsui and Water, Land and Housing Committee Chair Donovan Dela Cruz told Civil Beat after an hour-long caucus meeting Wednesday morning that action on the nominee to be director of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources would not be deferred and would move ahead as scheduled.

“We’re going to proceed tomorrow,” Tsutsui said.

Asked about the content of the closed-door chat, Tsutsui said “a lot of discussion centered on ongoing concerns” about Aila’s nomination. He said the DLNR director is an important position that requires careful scrutiny from the Senate.

“I think it was a healthy discussion,” Dela Cruz said, adding that moving forward with Aila’s nomination will “help the administration get to the ‘New Day’ they’ve discussed.”

The caucus meeting was pulled together after a week of acrimony that included concerns from Judiciary Chair Clayton Hee about Aila’s financial disclosure form and a failure to disclose fishing permits when testifying against an aquarium fishing ban. Those concerns were stated most clearly in a Senate floor discussion Feb. 23.

Caucus meetings are generally held on the day of the proposed action, but an exception was made in this case, according to Tsutsui, to “err on the side of caution” and ensure everyone was on the same page. Had Democrats determined they wanted a deferral, they likely would have given the Abercrombie administration as well as Aila and his family a warning to avoid any potential embarrassment.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has been mum on the Aila delays. Press secretary Donalyn Dela Cruz (Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz’s sister) told Civil Beat Tuesday that the governor wasn’t concerned, and when he walked past the caucus room on his way to the elevator Wedneday, Majority Caucus Leader Ron Kouchi joked with him that maybe he should stop in and make his case to Hee in person.

Told that the confirmation would be held Thursday, Donalyn Dela Cruz downplayed the importance. “That’s the legislative process and they’re doing their job,” she said.

Hee was the first to leave the caucus room, a couple of minutes before his colleagues as they wrapped up matters. Asked at the elevator door to comment on the meeting and specifically whether the Aila confirmation had been deferred as he had requested, Hee declined to comment and referred this reporter to Tsutsui.

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