The state Senate voted Tuesday to confirm state Rep. Jessica Wooley as director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, finding the attorney and environmental advocate qualified and capable for the post.
The 17-8 vote was validation for Wooley after several senators had questioned her honesty and ability to lead a state agency. Five senators voted for Wooley with reservations, however — a signal of the doubts surrounding her nomination.
Wooley will resign from the House for an OEQC term that runs through June 2015.
"I'm really excited to work with the executive and to help that office. I think that they are in dire need of somebody to fill that position," Wooley said. "And I think it's going to make a difference, both for the environment and the economy. The economy depends on this office working properly."
Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo), chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, said he was impressed with Wooley's enthusiasm and vision for the OEQC, which oversees the state's environmental impact statement law.
He told senators who had concerns about Wooley that they would have the ability to observe her work as director for one year before her term is up. She would have to again face Senate confirmation if she is reappointed for another term.
Sen. Russell Ruderman (D, Puna) said senators who opposed Wooley's nomination should have raised their objections at Wooley's confirmation hearing this month so she could have had the opportunity to respond.
"That would be fair to the nominee. That would be respectful to the nominee," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Kahala-Hawaii Kai) was the only senator to speak against Wooley's confirmation before the vote. He cited questions about whether Wooley would be fair to all of those in the agricultural industry and in small businesses.
Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club Hawaii, has announced that he will run in the Democratic primary for Wooley's House seat in the Kahaluu-Ahuimanu-Kaneohe district. Harris has said he would also be interested in Gov. Neil Abercrombie's appointment to fill Wooley's vacancy after she steps down.
Kika Bukoski, executive director of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council, had also been interested in the House seat. But Bukoski said in a statement Tuesday that he would not run, deciding that he could better serve the community through his work with the trades council.