More than five weeks after Gov. David Ige nominated Nolan Espinda for another term leading the Department of Public Safety, the state Senate has yet to call a hearing to consider his nomination.

Ige submitted Espinda’s name to the Senate on February 1. But Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who leads the public safety committee, told Civil Beat he’s waiting for more information from the Department of Public Safety before scheduling a hearing.

“It’s an open question now,” Nishihara said of the nomination Monday. “A lot will depend on what information we receive.”

Director Public Safety Noland Espinda during a break between hearings at the Capitol.
Director Public Safety Nolan Espinda listens during a hearing at the Hawaii State Capitol. Some senators say his bid to continue leading the department is in jeopardy. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Espinda’s is one of several gubernatorial nominees who have met some opposition in the Senate.

Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for Ige, said Monday that the governor is in the process of drafting up the nominations for Jobie Masagatani to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Rod Becker to the Department of Budget and Finance.

The governor has until March 29 to submit the names, according to Cindy McMillan, Ige’s communications director.

Democrats dominate Hawaii’s Senate and Ige is a Democrat who previously served in the Senate. But many key lawmakers didn’t support his re-election bid and the Senate previously voted down his nominees for the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Public Utilities Commission.

Nishihara said his hesitation about Espinda stems from concerns about his management of procurement, ongoing maintenance problems and poor policies and procedures.

Hawaii’s correctional system has been notorious for overcrowding and lack of transparency regarding prisoner deaths. A report published in January lambasted the Department of Public Safety and described a “punitive mentality that created and sustains the current failed system.”

The agency fell under further scrutiny last month after a sheriff’s deputy killed a man at the State Capitol.

In early March, an inmate was shot and killed by corrections officers after he escaped from the intake and release unit of the Oahu Corrections Center, then fled into the Kalihi neighborhood. At a news conference, Espinda called the escape a “major mistake.”

Growing Opposition

Two senators said Nishihara told the Senate Majority Caucus last week that he expects to have 13 votes in the 25-person Senate against Espinda’s nomination by the time he holds a hearing.

The senators interviewed for this story would only speak on the condition of anonymity, a condition Civil Beat agreed to as necessary to obtain and share this information.

Sen. Karl Rhoads, head of the Judiciary Committee, is among those who have concerns about Espinda. He introduced a bill to audit the department last year after hearing several allegations about the agency. He said he was taken aback by the department’s resistance to the proposal, which ultimately died.

“The public safety department hasn’t been audited in a few years and I was concerned about the director’s negative response toward having them audited at all,” Rhoads said.

A spokeswoman for the department said in an email that Espinda looks “forward to the Senate confirmation process, which allows for an open discussion of any pertinent issues.”

Masagatani is facing opposition from senators who are skeptical of her track record managing the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The state agency has been slow to build housing and made headlines for failing to spend federal money fast enough.

Becker previously worked in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and also led the Department of Accounting and General Services.

Help Power Local, Nonprofit News.

Across the nation and in Hawaii, news organizations are downsizing and closing their doors due to the ever-rising costs of keeping local journalism alive and well.

While Civil Beat has grown year over year, still only 1% of our readers are donors, and we need your help now more than ever.

Make a gift today of any amount, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,500, thanks to a generous group of Civil Beat donors.

About the Author