State senators mull lawsuit over governor's PUC appointment

State senators mull lawsuit over governor's PUC appointment

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige's interim appointment to the Public Utilities Commission has touched off a turf battle with the state Senate, which is now shopping for an attorney to handle a potential lawsuit.

Hawaii News Now has learned that Senate leaders met Tuesday over Tom Gorak's appointment, which some see as an attempt to block NextEra Energy's $4.3 billion takeover of Hawaiian Electric.

But Ige seemed unphased Tuesday about the possibility of legal challenge over his pick.

"I get sued almost every day by people who interpret the law differently," Ige said.

The senators believe the law requires that former Commissioner Michael Champley, whose term expired Thursday, remain in office as a holdover until Gorak's nomination is approved by the Senate next year.

That would leave Champley with the deciding vote on the NextEra deal.

But the state Attorney General has already ruled that Gorak's appointment is legal, Ige said.

"I do believe by the constitution, I do have the authority and the right to appoint commissioners to the Public Utilities Commission," the governor said.

Political experts agree.

"There's nothing inappropriate with appointing qualified people who share his philosophy and perspective as governor," said Colin Moore, University of Hawaii political science professor. "This is what you get to do as governor. This is why you were elected."

People pushing for a suit said it's important to have a clearer policy to avoid disputes over future appointments to other boards and state agencies.

If or when the Senate files a legal challenge, taxpayers would likely pay the attorneys costs for both sides.

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