It’s a new year, but Gov. David Ige may be keeping the majority of his current cabinet around for the beginning of his second term.
Ige has appointed 11 of the 19 cabinet-level positions that lead state departments and agencies, and nine of those are carryovers.
“We are committed to filling the cabinet as quickly as possible,” Ige said Thursday.
So far, at least, there doesn’t appear to be a looming confirmation fight in the state Senate, which must decide whether to approve the appointments. And that’s despite the fact that the governor isn’t on the best of terms with legislative leaders as a new session is about to begin.
Many of them supported his Democratic primary opponent, Colleen Hanabusa, in last year’s gubernatorial race.
Ige has yet to make several key appointments, including a new budget chief and someone to head the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, formerly led by Luis Salaveria.
The governor also has not said who he wants to lead the Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Defense, or who he wants to serve as director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and state comptroller.
Laurel Johnston, the former budget director, left earlier this month, as did former Chief Information Officer Todd Nacapuy.
Scott Kami is the acting budget director until Ige finds a replacement, and Ige has since announced that Douglas Murdock, a former state comptroller, will take over as CIO.
Nacapuy announced in December that he would be returning to the private sector. Salaveria did the same and now works for SanHi, the lobbying arm of local law firm Ashford & Wriston.
Even with these turnovers, Ige may end up keeping most of his current cabinet.
At a press conference Thursday, Ige made no mention of when he might announce more appointments, but said he has been interviewing candidates for all of his cabinet positions since just after the election.
The appointments so far look like business as usual at the Capitol, said Neal Milner, a retired University of Hawaii political science professor.
“He doesn’t seem like the type that wants to shake things up too much,” Milner said of Ige. “He seems to be satisfied with his administration.”
The only two newcomers so far are Clare Connors, Ige’s pick for attorney general, and Douglas Murdock, a former state comptroller and new state CIO.
While there might be some tension between Ige and senators, Milner said Ige’s appointments will most likely breeze through their confirmation hearings.
“There doesn’t seem to be a cabinet position or a point person for trouble that symbolizes the rivalry,” Milner said.
Nobody, for instance, like former development lobbyist Carleton Ching. Four years ago the newly elected Ige ran into a firestorm of protest from environmentalists after nominating Ching to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources. He ultimately withdrew the request, but not until it became clear the nomination would be rejected by the Senate.
This time around, the real conflict could come during pre-session budget hearings, Milner said.
The University of Hawaii has already defended its budget requests before senators once, and UH officials are scheduled for at least two more hearings before the session begins.
At a Thursday hearing, House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke criticized the Ige administration on several fronts.
Ige, who was a state senator representing Aiea and Pearl City from 1994 to 2014, said he understands the responsibility senators have when considering whether to confirm his appointments.
“I think we are assembling a very talented cabinet with good, qualified people in each of the positions,” Ige said. “We certainly look forward to the confirmation hearings.”
Some directors Ige appointed in 2015 at the start of his first term are still around.
They include Catherine Awakuni Colon, director of Commerce and Consumer Affairs; Nolan Espinda, director of Public Safety; and Suzanne Case; chairwoman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Most of the turnover on Ige’s cabinet has been due to retirement. The notable exception was Maria Zielinski, who resigned after it was discovered that state tax officials asked an independent firm overseeing Hawaii’s tax modernization system to alter reports to lawmakers, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported in December 2017.
Linda Chu Takayama, who Ige reappointed to head the tax department this year, took over in December 2017 after Zielinski’s resignation.
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