The decision came after a key Senate committee rejected his nomination. The governor said he’s optimistic about his other Cabinet picks.

Gov. Josh Green heads back to the drawing board to choose a new director for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands after his first nominee withdrew from consideration following a contentious Senate hearing.

Ikaika Anderson said Wednesday that he would step down after a key Senate committee voted to reject his appointment. Anderson will continue to serve as interim chairman of DHHL and the Hawaiian Homes Commission until Green chooses a successor.

“The votes just weren’t there. I respect that process. I thank the state Senate for allowing me to go through that process,” Anderson said at a joint press conference with Green.

Ikaika Anderson announced that he will not be seeking the DHHL director’s position after a Senate committee voted against his nomination Tuesday night. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Anderson’s nomination would have still gone to the full 25-member Senate despite the committee’s recommendation. But Senate Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Maile Shimabukuro said Tuesday night that it was unlikely Anderson had the votes to clear the Senate.

The process involved a grueling set of budget hearings before the Senate Ways and Means and Hawaiian Affairs Committees in January that culminated in a marathon meeting that stretched into Tuesday night where public testimony tilted heavily in favor of Anderson despite opposition from senators.

“Ikaika carried himself with great pride and courage into what can be a difficult environment,” Green, a former state senator, said. “When you see that many individuals come froward to support a gentleman like Ikaika Anderson, you do have to ask yourself why they ultimately wouldn’t pass him on for confirmation.”

Anderson was the first member of Green’s Cabinet to face a confirmation hearing. The governor doubled down on his message from Tuesday that at least some of the decision making over Anderson’s nomination was political.

“I hope we put people’s capacity ahead of the politics,” Green said.

The governor said he is still optimistic for the rest of his nominees and believes most of them will get confirmed. He believes the other nominees for director positions will have an easier time during their own confirmation hearings because they never held office before.

“That proved to be a lot of fodder for conflict,” Green said.

Anderson is a former Honolulu City councilman who was embroiled in several controversial decisions including a proposal from former Mayor Kirk Caldwell to develop a ballpark in Waimanalo, a move that angered Waimanalo residents. There were also questions over Anderson’s brief employment with a local labor union shortly after resigning from his positions as a council member.

“The votes just weren’t there. I respect that process.”

Ikaika Anderson, Interim DHHL Chair

Green also addressed concerns that his relationship with the Senate has already soured just one month into his first legislative session.

Green said that he still has a good relationship with Senate President Ron Kouchi, describing their meetings as all “fist bumps and hugs,” but noted that he’s just one senator in a chamber of 25.

In a written statement, Kouchi wished Anderson well.

“I appreciate Ikaika’s willingness to serve and admire his fortitude throughout this process,” Kouchi said.

Green said he’d find a place for Anderson to work in his administration in a different capacity.

Green still has dozens of appointments that need to win confirmation in the Senate. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The governor has until March 30 to appoint a new director and submit their nomination to the Senate.

The bumpy start to Green’s first round of cabinet picks recalls the Senate’s rejection of Carleton Ching as director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources in 2015. Former Gov. David Ige withdrew Ching, a building lobbyist, from consideration amid mass opposition from environmental groups.

Political analyst Neal Milner said that like Ige, Green should recover from the Senate’s rejection of Anderson. He also said it’s too early to tell how frayed, or not, Green’s relationship with the Legislature is.

“Merits aside, this is what legislators get to do. Because of the salience of Hawaiian Home Lands and it being rally one of the early hearings on the matter, that’s where the significance is … but in the long term it becomes a small piece,” he said.

The more pressing matter for the governor and the Legislature is figuring out how to spend $600 million allocated to DHHL by the statutory deadline of June 30, 2025. The cash infusion was historic and intended to reduce the Hawaiian Home Lands waitlist that has grown to over 29,000 applicants. Many have died, leading to elongated legal battles with the state.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission settled on a plan last year to use the cash on infrastructure to develop more than 3,000 lots statewide. Anderson initially proposed slight variations to the plan, but backtracked in recent weeks. It’s unclear what direction a new director would take.

“The only thing to worry about is DHHL having $600 million and not being sure how to use it yet,” Milner said. “That’s the policy tragedy.”

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