Sen. Ron Kouchi isn’t talking about whether longtime members of his caucus are bullying their peers over a political appointment.

Reports that Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz and Sen. Michelle Kidani are strong-arming colleagues into opposing Scott Glenn’s nomination to lead the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development have the Capitol buzzing with intrigue.

On Tuesday, however, Senate President Ron Kouchi had little to say about the disruption in the Democratic caucus he leads. He did not respond to a phone call seeking to learn what he thinks is going on and what, if anything, he intends to do about it. An emailed inquiry to the Senate majority communications office seeking comment also did not result in a call from Kouchi.

Meanwhile, on the eve of a Senate floor vote on Glenn’s confirmation, Dela Cruz and Kidani are refuting claims of bullying.

“You know, there are people who told me they are planning on voting for him and I never tried to dissuade them,” Dela Cruz said in a phone interview. 

Rather, he said it’s actually Sen. Lorraine Inouye who is pressuring other senators to maintain their votes supporting Glenn.

The Senate is currently split over how whether to confirm Scott Glenn to lead the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“The reality is, many of us talked about the concerns that we had and she actually told the whole Senate leadership that she would let everybody vote their conscience,” Dela Cruz said.

Glenn cleared Inouye’s Water and Land Committee on a 4-to-1 vote. Senators generally defer to committee chairs and go along with their recommendation, even when it’s time for a piece of legislation or a nominee to go before the full 25-member body.

After Inouye told senators that they can vote their conscience, votes for Glenn started slipping, Dela Cruz said. That’s when Inouye began putting pressure on other senators, including telling her colleagues that she would not support legislation they want if it goes to her committee, Dela Cruz said.

Dela Cruz and Kidani said that senators have received unsolicited calls from planning office employees sharing concerns about Glenn’s nomination but wouldn’t say over what specifically. Kidani said that employees who contacted her had issues with his attitude and demeanor toward staff.

Inouye confirmed that there was debate in Senate caucus “and it was not a healthy one for Scott,” she said Tuesday. “I did say vote your conscience, yes, and left it at that.”

However, Inouye said it is not her style to pressure colleagues on votes. “I ask where they stand,” she said, noting that is what a chair does. 

As for the unsolicited calls, Inouye said she believes they were from “disgruntled” employees.

“There were very few testimonies at the hearing – seven in opposition,” she said of the March 8 committee meeting.

Lawmakers, staff and others who frequent the Capitol describe the the rift among senators as significant, one that could lead to a shakeup in committee positions. And senators are increasingly speaking out, although most fear retaliation particularly from Dela Cruz who as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee can kill bills that provide much needed projects and development money for their districts.

Dela Cruz insists that he has not done anything to influence votes on Glenn.

During a floor speech on Tuesday, Dela Cruz said he should be getting royalties “for the amount of times Civil Beat insists on featuring me in their mostly interesting but fictional stories.”

He doesn’t believe there’s chaos in the Senate: “Bills are moving, committees are meeting, the budget is being crafted.”

“Those who feel there is chaos should probably get more organized and focus on their work instead of the hype,” Dela Cruz said.

Concerns Over Coal

Two sources familiar with the vote count who asked not to be identified said that there appear to be at least 12 votes in favor of Glenn, while several others were on the fence. Thirteen senators in the 25-member body are needed for confirmation.

While senators may be divided, the vast majority of testifiers unreservedly supported Glenn’s nomination during the committee hearing.

Opposition was minimal: Two planning office employees, who went only by J. Smith and A. Jones, sent written testimony to the committee opposing Glenn’s nomination.

Both said Glenn lacked the experience necessary to lead the department. Jones wrote that they were testifying anonymously to “avoid retaliation in the workplace.” 

Glenn was the state’s chief energy officer between 2019 and December 2022. He was also director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control between 2015 and 2019.

Previously, Glenn was an associate at environmental consulting firm Cardno and a researcher at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, according to his resume.

DLNR Scott Glenn during Legislature hearing. 13 july 2016
Scott Glenn’s nomination is expected to have a close floor vote Wednesday. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

One of the major concerns for lawmakers and those who opposed Glenn’s nomination during the hearing was closing Oahu’s last coal-burning power plant, which was mandated by lawmakers and ended up raising electric bills, in part because there weren’t enough working renewable energy projects to supplant the loss in power.

Glenn previously led the state’s Office of Energy, which was partially responsible for planning out those energy projects. That appears to be fueling the opposition against Glenn to lead the planning office.

Kidani, the Senate vice president, pointed to a question that Sen. Kurt Fevella, one of the chamber’s two GOP members, asked during the hearing over whether Glenn met with the energy committee chairs in the House and Senate. 

“At the time you were there, you didn’t think to ask legislators at the time if we could make an amendment so that it wouldn’t cause an impact on the consumer?” Fevella asked during the hearing.

Glenn responded saying that he engaged the governor and subject matter chairs on the issue. He apparently did not meet one-on-one with Sen. Glenn Wakai, the Senate energy chairman at the time, about the matter.

“To me, that speaks to his character,” Kidani said. “How does he expect the Senate to support him?”

Although Glenn did not meet directly with Wakai, the senator was a member of the Powering Past Coal Task Force, which Glenn chaired. The group was tasked with coordinating the deployment of renewable energy projects by Hawaiian Electric and has met nearly monthly since March 2021.

Glenn didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The Office of Planning and Sustainable Development is responsible for guiding land use and development in the state and has a hand in natural resource protection.

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