Hawaii Gov. David Ige vowed to do many things on the campaign trail last fall, including holding weekly press availabilities for the media to ask him questions about any topic.
It’s been a busy first couple of months getting his new administration up and running since taking office Dec. 1, but on Thursday he made time to hold his first such event at the Capitol.
Reporters in print, TV, radio and online publications peppered him with questions for nearly an hour. The topics were diverse, but one of the biggest issues was his decision to appoint Carleton Ching to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Gov. David Ige fields questions during his first media availability Thursday at the Capitol.
Ige defended his decision when pressed by reporters, saying he has faith in the Senate confirmation process to thoroughly vet Ching and give the public an opportunity to comment.
“I selected Carleton Ching because I was looking for quality executives,” Ige said, noting Ching’s management experience.
The governor added that he believes Ching will be dedicated to protecting, preserving and managing the state’s most important natural resources.
Asked why William Aila, the former head of DLNR, was demoted to deputy director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Ige said he was looking to bring change to the department.
The same rationale was provided when he was questioned about the decision to cut loose William Tam, the deputy director of the DLNR and widely respected expert in the state water code and land use laws.
Ige said he wants the department to function better than it has in the past, improve community input and not make decisions without public engagement. But it wasn’t anything in particular that Tam or Aila did that made him want to bring new people on board, he added.
“Things have taken a little bit longer than I would’ve liked but we’re working really hard to find quality leaders.” — Gov. David Ige
Another high-profile departure was Mina Morita, who headed the Public Utilities Commission. Ige has nominated Randy Iwase to steer the agency and offered assurances that he will be given the resources and authority he needs to move the state energy agenda forward.
Some of the reorganization and restructuring of the PUC thus far has included the creation of a new executive director position to serve as a full-time leader outside of the appointed three-member commission.
Ige’s budget request to the Legislature asks for three new permanent positions and $4.49 million in special funds for fiscal 2016, which starts July 1, and an additional $1.65 million for fiscal 2017 for renovations and other expenses for the PUC.
He was reluctant to name who has been serving on his transition team helping to provide advice. Asked twice, he simply said there were “a number of people,” but he makes the final decisions.
Civil Beat was able to independently confirm four of the members — it’s not clear if there are more. They include Lorrie Stone, an attorney specializing in land use and development; Robbie Alm, a former vice president of Hawaiian Electric Co.; Gordon Arakaki, a longtime Ige supporter and real estate attorney; and Keith Hiraoka, Ige’s former campaign manager.
“Things have taken a little bit longer than I would’ve liked but we’re working really hard to find quality leaders,” he said.
Ige looked more comfortable — and rested — fielding questions behind the podium than he did in previous press conferences to announce his biennium budget proposal and follow up on remarks he made during his inauguration.
The governor said he is 95 percent done appointing his Cabinet. He’s down to a couple deputies and the director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
When that’s settled, Ige said he will turn his attention to the “second tier,” which involves choosing dozens of people to serve on state boards and commissions.
Gov. David Ige gestures when explaining how surprised he was to learn the workers’ compensation program is entirely paper-based.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Other questions focused on the port labor dispute on the West Coast, the University of Hawaii and pesticides. But there were lighter moments too.
Ige, who was largely responsible for the Senate going paperless when he served as a legislator, seemed genuinely baffled when explaining that the state’s workers compensation program is entirely paper-based.
He wants to move the rest of state government in an electronic-based direction. During his State of the State address last month, Ige said the Senate generated more than $1.2 million in savings over two years and has saved nearly 8 million sheets of paper or the equivalent of 800 trees each year.
The governor said he wants to make these media availabilities more regular, but declined to speculate when the next one would be. His staff said it might become an every-other-week event.
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