HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A controversial nominee is defending his ability to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources. In a newly-released questionnaire, Carleton Ching responds to growing concerns about his experience and a potential conflict of interest.
Ching's Senate confirmation hearing is on Wednesday. The governor's pick to head the DLNR faces a tough battle. The Committee on Water and Land received more than 1,000 pieces of testimony by Monday morning.
"Over 900 in opposition and about 100 in favor," said State Senator Laura Thielen, chair of the Water and Land Committee. "There have been highly controversial nominations in the past, but it does seem a bit unusual."
"That's massive. Look, we're supposed to listen to the people, right? So the people are saying, utterly and completely, this is not the right choice," said State Senator Josh Green (D-West Hawaii).
Despite the new numbers and criticism from environmentalists, the governor isn't changing his mind. He issued this statement: "The DLNR director has to balance many diverse interests to achieve the mission of preserving and protecting Hawaii's natural, historic and cultural resources. I stand by Carleton Ching and believe he will be a good steward of the public trust."
Opponents, however, insist Ching isn't qualified for the job. They're also worried about potential conflicts of interests for the longtime Castle & Cooke lobbyist. Ching addressed the concerns in his response to a questionnaire from the committee. He wrote, "As to these matters, I would rely on the Attorney General, and BLNR to determine if a conflict exists, or if an appearance of a conflict or favoritism exists, and if so, I would recuse myself."
When asked to assess the strengths of the department, Ching cited dedicated administrators, ongoing improvements at certain departments, and potential options for revenue generations. As for weaknesses, he pointed to limited funds and resources, vacancies in some key positions, and a need for more collaboration between divisions.
"I think it's going to come down to the hearing. There is going to be a lot of attention paid to the response that he has for the questions, and how he responds to the criticism and concerns that have been raised by a number of people," said Thielen.
The hearing starts at 10 a.m. on Wednesday in Conference Room 229. The committee will come up with a recommendation and then the full Senate will vote on the nomination.