Two weeks have passed since Gov. David Ige, lacking the votes in the Senate, reluctantly withdrew his nomination of Carleton Ching to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The controversy over his appointment of a lobbyist for Castle & Cooke, a major land developer, has subsided as the public’s attention has turned to other issues.
But the governor has remained focused on finding a new nominee, he told Civil Beat during an editorial board meeting Thursday. The application process was reopened after the Ching appointment fell through and interviews have begun.
Time is rapidly running out though, if Ige hopes to have the Senate confirm someone this legislative session. He has until Monday to submit a nominee for lawmakers to consider before they adjourn May 7.
Gov. David Ige answers a question during an interview Thursday at Civil Beat’s office in Kaimuki.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
If Ige doesn’t pick someone else to lead DLNR by then, Carty Ching, the interim chair, will steer the department until a nominee can be confirmed during next year’s legislative session.
“We’re very much aware of the Monday deadline,” Ige told Civil Beat Thursday.
He wouldn’t say who, if anyone, is being seriously considered or if he has a new name to submit to lawmakers on Monday.
“I would prefer to take the time to find a quality candidate,” he said. “It has been one of my priorities to really transform the culture in government, in all departments. So I have been looking for leaders that can help do that, in every role.”
The governor said his office quit accepting applications earlier this week.
“As we’ve been collecting them, if there seemed to be candidates, I have been interviewing,” Ige said, adding that he was unsure how many had applied.
It’s possible that lawmakers could decide to hold a special session in the interim if the appointment comes after Monday. But it’s unclear if Senate leaders would be open to doing so.
Ige withdrew his nomination of Ching on March 18 amid mounting public pressure. The governor was unable to convince the public or a majority of senators that he was the right person for the job.
The head of DLNR oversees nearly 900 employees who work in 10 divisions. They are tasked with protecting and managing aquatic resources, boating and recreation, conservation and coastal lands, forestry and wildlife, historic preservation and state parks.
Environmental groups criticized Ching over his lack of experience in conservation and ties to land developers and groups that advocated for the now-defunct Public Land Development Corporation.
Ige saw Ching as a leader whose background could help the state make better use of its lands, including finding ways to increase revenue.
The governor asked the public and his former colleagues to put faith in his choice but that wasn’t enough. As a result, he’s more attuned now to what it will take to get the next nomination through the Senate.
The DLNR post is the only problem Ige has had so far in filling his Cabinet.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues