After intense debate, senators vote to reconfirm embattled Public Safety head

Updated: Apr. 24, 2019 at 7:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After more than an hour of debate Wednesday, senators voted 17-to-8 to reconfirm embattled Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda to a second term.

The confirmation vote came after months of questions over Espinda’s leadership.

In an address to the full Senate, Public Safety Committee Chairman Clarence Nishihara said he cannot support Espinda’s re-appointment after a thorough investigation into his job performance.

“We cannot afford a continuation of the same leadership style,” he said. “The current director is not the right person for the job.”

But State Sen. Lorraine Inouye said Espinda is a “reformer,” and deserves a chance to serve.

State Sen. Kurt Fevella agreed.

“I want to work with him,” he said. “If not Nolan, who? There’s nobody that has the backbone. ... He’s doing the job that the senators want."

During the confirmation vote, Espinda sat in the gallery next to Gov. David Ige, who has remained doggedly supportive of the director despite mounting criticism of his tenure.

Espinda has come under fire after several high-profile events that happened under his watch.

Those black eyes include last month’s riots at the Maui Community Correctional Center and deadly shootings at the state Capitol and Oahu Community Correctional Center.

#LIVE: The full Senate is voting this morning on whether embattled Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda should keep his job. MORE: #HINews #HNN

Posted by Hawaii News Now on Wednesday, April 24, 2019

State Sen. Kai Kahele said the episodes are just too big to overlook.

“I believe Nolan Espinda ... is a dedicated public servant. The director of public safety is not an easy job,” he said.

“But as an elected official, I simply cannot ignore two fatal shootings, a riot and 20 inadvertent releases. There needs to be accountability. and that accountability needs to start at the top.”

The eight lawmakers who voted against Espinda’s confirmation are:

  • Sen. Rosalyn Baker
  • Sen. Stanley Chang
  • Sen. Breene Harimoto
  • Sen. Kai Kahele
  • Sen. Clarence Nishihara
  • Sen. Karl Rhoads
  • Sen. Gil Riviere
  • Sen. Glenn Wakai

After the vote, Espinda would not go into detail about how he plans to reform the department, but says he will listen and take in the criticisms he received over the last few months.

“No suggestion is out of line, and I believe that everything that was brought forward regarding improvement in our system, regarding any contentious feelings of retaliation of that nature, needs to be addressed and every employee treated fairly, equitably, and with merit,” said Espinda.

Governor Ige, who has publicly stood by Espinda, says he believes the Senate now has a better understanding of the challenges facing the public safety department and why his administration continues to advocate for more funding.

“The senate vote today, we take as an expression of their partnership with us to really improve the overall system,” said Ige.

On Monday, Espinda wrote a letter acknowledging that some DPS workers feared retaliation for criticizing him. However, he vowed he would not go after his critics.

Earlier this month, the Senate’s Public Safety Committee voted against recommending his re-confirmation.

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