Honolulu (HawaiiNewsNow) – Gov. Neil Abercrombie has instituted a new policy for his appointees this election year: they have to take vacation or unpaid leave if they're running for office.
Deputy Attorney General Kevin Takata is challenging Keith Kaneshiro in the city prosecutor's race this year. At the governor's request, Takata took vacation leave starting July 1. He'll be on leave until the prosecutor's election in November. He said he has accrued enough vacation as a longtime city prosecutor to use paid vacation time through the fall election.
"We don't want to punish anybody for running for office, not in a democracy. But by the same token, we want to make sure that the public is assured in turn that people are earning their paycheck," Abercrombie said.
Former State Senator Gary Hooser, who has headed the state's Office of Environmental Quality Control for the past year and a half also took vacation leave starting July 1, a little more than a month before the Aug. 11 primary. He is an appointee of the governor.
Hooser's running for a seat on the Kauai County Council and said the governor's suggestion for candidates to temporarily step down from their state jobs was a "reasonable request."
"The tendency, I think, for a candidate, is to focus on the campaign itself. and so it removes any temptation to not fulfill your job duties," said Hooser.
The Kauai council race won't be decided until the November general election. Hooser said he's using his vacation for paid leave until it runs out and then he will be on unpaid leave through November.
"The only reasonable thing from my point of view to do, to put the public's mind at rest is to say you're going take vacation time or leave without pay and then you take your chances, you go campaign," Abercrombie said. "Campaigns require your attention. Your psychic energy, your emotional energy as well as your physical presence."
Unionized state workers are subject to rules in their union contracts about running for office and the governor cannot force them to temporarily step aside from their state jobs.
Others not under the governor's direct control have also left state jobs to run for office.
At the end of last year, Esther Kiaaina stepped down voluntarily as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' chief advocate, tracking laws and pending legislation. She's running for the seat in Congress representing windward Oahu and the neighbor islands.
"The reason I did it was to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest on behalf of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs," Kiaaina said. "I wanted to make sure that when people saw me in the community I wanted them to know I was representing myself and not OHA."
UH Manoa spokesman Gregg Takayama, who's running for a seat in the State House, is subject to strict UH rules for candidates. Following the procedures for all UH employees, Takayama went on unpaid leave as soon as he filed for office June 5, he said. Takayama is paying for all his benefits during his leave and will be terminated from his UH job if he's elected in November, according to UH policy.