New Hawaii state Senate President Ron Kouchi announced the final lineup of committee chairmanships and leadership positions Friday morning, mostly settling unresolved posts from the rocky transition to power.
He found a home for all but a few members of the Chess Club faction of the Senate who lost out when Donna Mercado Kim was deposed two days before the legislative session ended May 7.
The initial lineup, announced May 6, did not give a committee chairmanship or leadership position to Sen. Les Ihara, majority policy leader during Kim’s three-year reign as president; Sen. Russell Ruderman, who headed the Agriculture Committee; freshman Sen. Gil Riviere, or Kim.
The new leadership had assigned Sen. Laura Thielen, who had chaired Water and Land, to head a newly merged Health and the Environment Committee, and Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland to lead the Human Services Committee, but they were pending confirmation.
Chun Oakland later accepted her assignment, but Thielen rejected hers after making an effort with others on the outs to reach a deal with leadership to also give Ruderman and Kim chairmanships.
At one point, Thielen said there was a deal to give hers the Environment and Ocean Resources Committee, Ruderman the Health Committee and Kim the Government Operations Committee, but it fell apart.
Kouchi has said he didn’t want a polarizing figure like Ruderman, a self-described environmentalist, or for that matter Sen. Clarence Nishihara, a friend of the biotech industry, to head Agriculture. Instead, he found a more neutral and approachable chair in Sen. Mike Gabbard.
Political insiders have speculated that Thielen is on the outs because of the way she handled the confirmation hearing of Carleton Ching, Gov. David Ige’s ill-fated choice to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
With public opposition already mounting against Ching, a lobbyist for land developer Castle & Cooke, Thielen held a heated two-day public hearing that drew out more reasons why he was unqualified and ultimately ended in the committee voting 5-2 against the nomination.
The old guard, which many say Kouchi and the new leadership represent, often handle disputes like this out of the public eye. And in the case of Ching, many if not all of the new leadership supported him. A vote was never cast on the Senate floor because Ige withdrew the nomination before it could happen, a political courtesy once he realized he didn’t have the votes to win confirmation.
Ihara has been a longtime proponent of open government as a founding member of the Chess Club. New leadership eliminated his majority policy leader position.
In the final lineup, Kouchi and Senate leadership did not give Thielen, Ihara, Ruderman or Riviere any committee to chair, but ended up letting Kim lead Government Operations, a minor post.
There were no changes to the powerful positions given to members of the Senate factions that helped Kouchi take the gavel.
Sen. Jill Tokuda’s four-member hui that served as a swing vote to make Kouchi president landed comfortably. Tokuda retained her position as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which controls the state’s overall $26 billion biennium budget.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, part of the nine-member Opihi faction that includes Kouchi, will be vice chair of Ways and Means, overseeing almost $2.5 billion in spending on capital improvement projects. Dela Cruz had chaired the Government Operations Committee under Kim.
Here’s a look a the final lineup.
Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health (CPH)
Chair: Sen. Rosalyn Baker
Vice Chair: Sen. Michelle Kidani
Economic Development, Environment and Technology (EET)
Chair: Sen. Glenn Wakai
Vice Chair: Sen. Sam Slom
Chair: Sen. Michelle Kidani
Vice Chair: Sen. Breene Harimoto
Government Operations (GVO)
Chair: Sen. Donna Mercado Kim
Vice Chair: Sen. Les Ihara
Hawaiian Affairs (HWN)
Chair: Sen. Maile Shimabukuro
Vice Chair: Sen. J. Kalani English
Human Services (HMS)
Chair: Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland
Vice Chair: Sen. Gil Riviere
Higher Education and the Arts (HEA)
Chair: Sen. Brian Taniguchi
Vice Chair: Sen. Gilbert Kahele
Chair: Sen. Breene Harimoto
Vice Chair: Sen. Brickwood Galuteria
Judiciary and Labor (JDL)
Chair: Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran
Vice Chair: Sen. Maile Shimabukuro
Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs (PSM)
Chair: Sen. Clarence Nishihara
Vice Chair: Sen. Will Espero
Tourism and International Affairs (TSI)
Chair: Sen. Gilbert Kahele
Vice Chair: Sen. J. Kalani English
Transportation and Energy (TRE)
Chair: Sen. Lorraine Inouye
Vice Chair: Sen. Mike Gabbard
Water, Land and Agriculture (WLA)
Chair: Sen. Mike Gabbard
Vice Chair: Sen. Clarence Nishihara
Ways and Means (WAM)
Chair: Sen. Jill Tokuda
Vice Chair: Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz
Senate President: Sen. Ronald Kouchi
Senate Vice President: Sen. Will Espero
Majority Leader: Sen. J. Kalani English
Majority Floor Leader: Sen. Josh Green
Majority Caucus Leader: Sen. Brickwood Galuteria
Majority Whip: Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz