Meanwhile, Kali Watson was approved to lead Hawaiian Home Lands while Keith Regan was confirmed as state comptroller.
Gov. Josh Green’s economic chief was rejected by the Hawaii Senate after a divided floor debate on Friday, while his planning director’s nomination resulted in a tie that effectively meant he was not confirmed.
The nominees to lead the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the state Department of Accounting and General Services were confirmed.
Chris Sadayasu, the director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, was rejected by a 15-8 vote. Sen. Joy San Buenaventura and Sen. Glenn Wakai were excused and did not vote.
The Green administration confirmed that Wakai applied for the DBEDT director position in December and interviewed with the transition committee but was not selected.
Scott Glenn, the nominee to lead the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development, received a 12-12 tie vote by the 25-member Senate. There was an audible gasp in the Senate gallery as the votes were tallied.
San Buenaventura, who would have been the deciding vote, said she had to fly home to the Big Island on Friday and informed the governor and the Senate that she would not be attending the floor session. She declined to say how she would have voted.
Thirteen votes are needed for confirmation. Reconsideration of the nominee and another vote are possible but would have to happen before the end of session in early May.
Sadayasu declined to comment on his future plans after the floor session.
“We tried our best,” he said.
Glenn said he was appreciative of the time individual senators took to meet with him.
“It’s a lot of work, to talk to us nominees and do their homework,” Glenn said. “They did their homework and I’m appreciative of their consideration.”
The governor expressed frustration.
“Two good nominees were confirmed today, two other very good people with impeccable track records and almost universal support from the community were rejected,” Green said in a statement following the votes. “All four should have been approved for the good of the state today.”
“On my team we see the good in people and try to get the best out of them,” he added.
The votes followed days of accusations between senators over pressure to either support or reject Glenn’s nomination.
Earlier this week, Sen. Lorraine Inouye said that Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz and Michelle Kidani were reported to be coercing colleagues to vote against Glenn.
Inouye, chair of the Senate Water and Land Committee that earlier voted to recommend his confirmation, then faced accusations herself of pressuring colleagues into supporting him in the floor vote.
Glenn cleared the Water and Land Committee on a 4-1 vote. He previously worked as the state’s chief energy officer and led the state’s environmental review office before that.
Inouye spoke in support of his nomination, saying that Glenn “adeptly navigated the duties and responsibilities of his position” and described him as taking a collaborative approach to addressing a multitude of issues facing Hawaii.
She said Glenn presented her with plans on how to manage land use, coastal management, sea level rise, development near major transit lines, climate change and other issues the planning department would take on.
Inouye noted that the vast majority of testifiers on Glenn’s nomination — 112 to seven — supported him.
“Many of his colleagues have spoken very highly of Mr. Glenn,” Inouye said.
Sen. Karl Rhoads also supported Glenn’s nomination.
“He’s very straightforward,” Rhoads said. “Sometimes he tells you things you don’t want to hear, because he thinks it’s the truth. And sometimes we don’t always want to hear exactly what the situation is.”
But some employees in the planning office privately told senators that they had concerns about his attitude and qualifications for the job. That’s one reason why Sen. Sharon Moriwaki said she couldn’t support Glenn.
“Leadership also includes inspiring and leading others, even those that disagree with your opinion,” she said.
The shuttering of Oahu’s last coal plant last year also played a factor in Glenn’s nomination. Wakai said that lawmakers went along with plans to shut the coal facility down on assurances made by the state’s energy office that there would be enough renewable energy projects to supplant the lost power. The plant’s closure prompted electricity costs to spike.
“We are all suffering from the high cost of living, especially the high cost of energy,” Kidani said.
Wakai and others accused Glenn of misleading the Senate. Glenn declined to respond directly to those remarks. Asked what’s next for him, Glenn said “It’s time to take a look and think about options.”
Sadayasu faced a rough confirmation hearing on March 16 when senators grilled him on his absence at several meetings involving the Hawaii Tourism Authority and lawmakers.
Sadayasu also struggled through a series of budget briefings earlier this year while trying to defend preliminary budget proposals that had yet to be finalized but were sent to lawmakers. The proposals, which at that time were not yet trimmed down, made big asks from the numerous offices contained in DBEDT.
He has more than 20 years working in various positions in state government and his nomination received no testimony in opposition, yet the Senate Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted 4-1 against his nomination.
Opposition to his nomination was also widespread in the Senate on Friday.
“He’s not ready to lead one of the most important departments in this time of economic uncertainty,” Sen. Donna Kim said.
The committee chairwoman, Sen. Lynn DeCoite, said she opposed his nomination because of an apparent lack of familiarity with the DBEDT budget. She called much of the testimony in support of his nomination “boiler plate” and raised concerns over his qualifications.
Many of the offices where Sadayasu worked contained staff sizes much smaller than the more than 300 employees in DBEDT and its attached agencies.
Lawmakers have packed the agency full of responsibilities over the years. The department is meant to promote business and economic revitalization. But it also has other responsibilities in development, land use and tourism.
Sen. Carol Fukunaga, who supported Sadayasu, said the Legislature is partially responsible for the size of the department as well as its complexity.
In 2022, the Legislature put Aloha Stadium and the Agribusiness Development Corp. under the department. Entities that deal with housing and development like the Hawaii Community Development Authority and the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., which holds funding for much of the governor’s housing initiatives, are also administratively attached to DBEDT.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority is also a DBEDT agency. It’s been under the microscope recently as it embarks on its third round of issuing a marketing contract for mainland tourism after bungling the procurement process last year for two previous contracts.
Kali Watson, who was Green’s second pick to lead the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, was approved 22-2 for the job. Republican Sens. Brenton Awa and Kurt Fevella voted “no.”
Watson previously served as DHHL director and chairman of the Hawaiian Home Commission in the 1990s under former Gov. Ben Cayetano. He takes over an agency that has struggled to provide homesteads for nearly 29,000 Hawaiian beneficiaries trying to access land under a 1921 act of Congress.
DHHL now has $600 million to spend to try to whittle down the waitlist thanks to a historic cash infusion by the Legislature last year. Watson has said he plans to mostly stick to plans already approved by the Hawaiian Homes Commission last year, but also wants to develop housing units faster and target additional funding available from federal, state and county agencies.
Senators also gave unanimous confirmation to Keith Regan to head the state Department of Accounting and General Services.
Several other high-profile Green appointees await confirmation by the Senate.
They include Dawn Chang to lead the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. A Senate committee hearing on her nomination is scheduled for next Friday. Sharon Hurd, the state agriculture director, cleared a committee and is still awaiting a floor vote in the Senate.
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