Hawaii governor withdraws land department chairman nominee

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HONOLULU — Gov. David Ige on Wednesday withdrew his nomination of Carleton Ching to lead Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources after it became clear that the state Senate wasn’t going to confirm his selection.

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HONOLULU — Gov. David Ige on Wednesday withdrew his nomination of Carleton Ching to lead Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources after it became clear that the state Senate wasn’t going to confirm his selection.

The Senate met Wednesday to vote on the nomination. But after a series of recesses that lasted nearly an hour, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim announced that Ige had sent a message withdrawing Ching from consideration.

The withdrawal came after Ching faced substantial opposition because of his background as a land developer. Environmental groups and some senators said Ching lacked experience and understanding of environmental issues, and his professional experience wasn’t the right preparation for safeguarding the state’s land and coastline.

Ige, in a news conference after the withdrawal, said there was broad-based support for Ching throughout the process, but it became clear that Ching didn’t have the support of a majority of senators shortly before Wednesday’s Senate session.

“From my perspective, I did not want to put Carleton or his family through a floor vote if we did not have a majority support,” Ige said.

The full Senate never took a public vote on the appointment.

“We escaped the idea of going on record and making statements and having a vote, and for that I’m very sorry,” said Republican Sen. Sam Slom, who had voted in committee to recommend approving Ching.

Ching had said his employment at development firm Castle & Cooke doesn’t define him, but that wasn’t enough to overcome opposition expressed by thousands of constituents. Last week, a Senate water and land committee recommended a “no” vote on Ching after a day and a half of grueling hearings.

“I’m really pleased that our democracy works,” said Steven Lee Montgomery, co-founder of Hawaii League of Conservation Voters. “A lot of citizens put a lot of time and energy into trying to help the Senate sort through this nomination … I’m just delighted that our senators have convinced the governor that we need to find a new path.”

The issue has emerged as the first test of Ige’s ability to work with his former colleagues in the Senate. Despite the prevailing sentiment opposing his pick, Ige stood by Ching, at one point even interrupting the Senate committee confirmation hearing to defend Ching and to challenge committee Chairwoman Sen. Laura Thielen’s line of questioning.

The nomination put some senators in a difficult spot, giving them a choice between fulfilling the wishes of many constituents and going along with Ige, a respected former colleague and friend.

Ige will now have to recommend a new nominee for the position. In the interim, acting chairman Carty Chang will continue to lead the department.

“We recognize that the governor has Hawaii’s best interest at heart, and we’re looking forward to working with him to find a suitable nominee for the position,” said Marti Townsend, executive director of The Outdoor Circle, an environmental organization. “We are definitely working on our own list of people to consider.”

Ige, when asked whether he would steer clear of a candidate with a similar background, said he was not going to label people or “put them into boxes.”

“For anyone wanting to offer nominations, I’m again willing to consider anyone who’s interested in serving,” Ige said.

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Ching had been on a paid leave of absence from Castle & Cooke pending the outcome of the confirmation vote, and he has the option to return, he said.

“I wanted to serve. That’s why I stepped forward,” Ching told reporters. “Obviously, when you walk into the game, you want to win…so I’m a little disappointed, but that’s the process I was put through, and I accept the process.”

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