- Special Projects
It’s 4 ‘o clock on a Friday. Pau hana, right?
Wrong. It’s time for Gov. David Ige to reveal his latest Cabinet appointment — right at that moment when no one is looking.
Since he started picking people in November to serve in his new administration, 11 were named on Fridays and another seven were disclosed on New Year’s Eve.
The timing raises the question of whether the governor’s office is trying to avoid public scrutiny by announcing these major decisions when people are paying less attention to the news.
His Friday appointees include the head of the Public Utilities Commission (Randy Iwase), Attorney General (Doug Chin), Department of Land and Natural Resources (Carleton Ching), Board of Agriculture (Scott Enright), Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (Jobie Masagatani), Department of Health (Dr. Ginny Pressler) and Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (Catherine Awakuni Colón), to name a few.
The Cabinet choices are huge. This is who will be running departments with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, charged with providing myriad public services, enforcing state laws and working to fulfill an ever-growing list of responsibilities.
All of Ige’s appointments so far have been announced via news releases. No fanfare. No accompanying press conferences like his predecessor, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, was fond of holding. Just the names, a couple canned quotes, brief bios and mug shots.
Ige’s communications director, Cindy McMillan, says there’s nothing sinister behind the timing of the announcements. The governor’s office is not trying to hide anything or bury the news over weekends or holidays when fewer people are watching, she says.
In many instances that’s just when the decision was made, McMillan said, noting that in some cases it was about quelling the rumor mill of who he might pick and for what. So when they knew, they announced it.
But McMillan did acknowledge that it seemed to have become a habit to announce the appointments on Fridays.
Asked why Ige hasn’t held press conferences to accompany the appointments — or started doing weekly media availabilities, something he said during his campaign that he would do — McMillan said Ige hasn’t done it because, well, he just hasn’t done it.
“I don’t believe this governor is going to hide from anything,” she said. “They just didn’t do it.”
In a candid conversation at her office Friday, she explained that the administration is still getting up and running.
Since Ige was sworn in Dec. 1, the governor has been interviewing people to serve in his Cabinet, tweaking his biennium budget proposal and putting together a package of bills for the 2015 legislative session, which started Jan. 21.
There’s also just the act of moving in, McMillan said, adding that the logistics of getting everyone settled in new offices takes time.
Ige, an engineer by trade, is methodical. Once he arrives at a decision, she said, he sticks to it.
Such is the case in his choice of Carleton Ching to head the DLNR. Environmental groups don’t want a longtime lobbyist for Castle & Cooke, a huge developer, running the state agency tasked with protecting land and natural resources.
Ige isn’t budging though. Instead, he’s putting his faith in the legislative confirmation process to further vet Ching — along with his other appointees — and ultimately decide.
McMillan wasn’t sure how many appointments the governor has left to make, but the biggest one that’s outstanding is director of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Ige had picked Elizabeth Kim to head that department, but had to withdraw her name. She didn’t meet residency requirements after living and working the past year in Washington, D.C., as an appointee of President Barack Obama.
In his State of the State address last Monday, Ige announced that Kim would instead serve as special adviser to the governor. He is hoping she can use her Capitol connections to bring more federal dollars to Hawaii; Ige has said the state may be missing out on close to $1 billion.
The residency rule wasn’t the only thing that the administration has had to consider. There are restrictions on when other people he appoints can actually start working, too.
If the appointee began work before the legislative session started then he or she can continue in that capacity. If they were picked after the session began or couldn’t start working until after session started and need a Senate confirmation, then they have to wait to be confirmed before starting the job.
That rule affects Ching since he was appointed two days after the session began.
All that said, McMillan acknowledged it’d be unlikely for the governor to announce any more appointments on a Friday or before a holiday. And going forward, she said, there will be more press briefings.