Newly anointed state Senate President Ron Kouchi announced a new lineup of committee chairs Wednesday, clearly rewarding those who supported ousting Donna Mercado Kim on Tuesday while putting others out to pasture.

There were no leadership positions or committee chairmanships for Sens. Les Ihara — majority policy leader under Kim — Russell Ruderman, who headed the Agriculture Committee, or Kim herself.

Meanwhile, the four members of a faction led by Sen. Jill Tokuda that made the coup possible all either kept the powerful posts they already held or got a promotion. Her hui went from supporting the Chess Club that together had made Kim president three years ago to supporting the nine-member Opihi faction that wanted Kouchi at the helm.

5 may 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Senate President Ron Kouchi stands at the helm for the first time Tuesday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Tokuda will remain chair of Ways and Means, which controls the state budget, and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz will be vice chair, overseeing the spending plan for capital improvement projects.

Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran will continue chairing Judiciary and Labor and Sen. Roz Baker will stay on as chair of Consumer Protection.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, the fourth member of Tokuda’s group, will be chair of a new Water, Land and Agriculture Committee. Nishihara, a friend of the biotech industry, was slated for the Agriculture Committee chairmanship but leadership evidently decided to merge that committee with the Water and Land Committee, which Sen. Laura Thielen previously held.

Nishihara has been assigned to chair another merged committee, Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs. Public Safety had been Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, chaired by Sen. Will Espero, but he switched his support from the Chess Club to Opihi and is now vice president.

Thielen was assigned to chair another newly merged committee, Health and the Environment. Sen. Josh Green was chair of the Health Committee but will now be majority floor leader, a minor leadership position.

Green refused to compromise with the House last week on a final bone of contention in a bill to establish medical marijuana dispensaries, derailing it until Senate leadership got involved. Exceptions were made to the rules, Espero was made chair of the conference committee instead of Green, and the bill passed the committee Monday.

Earlier this session, Thielen held a contentious two-day hearing on Gov. David Ige’s appointment of Carleton Ching to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which she used to head. Ige ultimately withdrew the nomination after her committee rejected it in a 5-2 vote and support faltered in the full Senate amid public opposition over Ching’s work as a lobbyist for Castle & Cooke, a major land developer.

Kim was expected to become chair of the Public Safety Committee, according to sources familiar with the reorganization plans. Instead, she has been assigned to be vice chair of Human Services with Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland serving as chair.

All the committee assignments take effect immediately save for three exceptions. Thielen, Kim and Chun Oakland have yet to confirm whether they will accept the positions, according to a release the Senate sent out late Wednesday afternoon.

Thielen said the new leadership had made the following committee chair assignments to five senators earlier Wednesday, which they had been prepared to accept: Chun Oakland, Human Services; Kim, Government Operations; Harimoto, Housing; Ruderman, Health; and Thielen, Environment and Ocean Resources.

“I’m puzzled as to why the new leadership did not meet with me as planned, and why they reneged on the committee assignments for senators Ruderman and Kim,” Thielen said. “Those two have a lot to offer, and I hate to see their talents wasted.”

Kouchi said in the release that the assignments will make the Senate more effective as a body moving forward.

“This new alignment is consistent with our policy of making the best use of our members’ skills and interests,” he said.

New Committee Assignments

Consumer Protection (CPN)
Chair: Sen. Rosalyn Baker
Vice Chair: Sen. Michelle Kidani

Economic Development and Technology (EDT)
Chair: Sen. Glenn Wakai
Vice Chair: Sen. Sam Slom

Education (EDU)
Chair: Sen. Michelle Kidani
Vice Chair: Sen. Breene Harimoto

Hawaiian Affairs (HWN)
Chair: Sen. Maile Shimabukuro
Vice Chair: Sen. J. Kalani English

Higher Education and the Arts (HEA)
Chair: Sen. Brian Taniguchi
Vice Chair: Sen. Gilbert Kahele

Housing (HSG)
Chair: Sen. Breene Harimoto
Vice Chair: Sen. Brickwood Galuteria

Judiciary and Labor (JDL)
Chair: Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran
Vice Chair: Sen. Maile Shimabukuro

Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs (PSM)
Chair: Sen. Clarence Nishihara
Vice Chair: Sen. Will Espero

Tourism (TSI)
Chair: Sen. Gilbert Kahele
Vice Chair: Sen. J. Kalani English

Transportation and Energy (TRE)
Chair: Sen. Lorraine Inouye
Vice Chair: Sen. Mike Gabbard

Water, Land and Agriculture (WLA)
Chair: Sen. Mike Gabbard
Vice Chair: Sen. Clarence Nishihara

Ways and Means (WAM)
Chair: Sen. Jill Tokuda
Vice Chair: Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz

Leadership Lineup

Senate President: Sen. Ronald Kouchi
Senate Vice President: Sen. Will Espero
Majority Leader: Sen. J. Kalani English
Majority Floor Leader: Sen. Josh Green
Majority Caucus Leader: Sen. Brickwood Galuteria
Majority Whip: Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author