POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 30, 2011
If you watch what politicians do, rather than what they promise, there is reason to be concerned about how open an administration Gov. Neil Abercrombie will run.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle gets high marks in open government for releasing the names of nominees to the judicial vacancies.
It may not appear to be a big deal, but if you care about how Hawaii gets its judges, then you have to know how they are selected.
Here's the process. When there is an opening for a state judge, the state's Judicial Selection Commission sends a list of names to the governor, who must pick someone from the list.
Lingle would make the entire list public and invite people to comment before making her selection.
Now Abercrombie has gone back to the dark days when Hawaii's governors would keep the list of names secret. This is a bad policy that stains Abercrombie's claims of running an open and transparent government.
Abercrombie's press secretary, Donalyn Dela Cruz, was first asked about this last week by Star-Advertiser reporter Ken Kobayashi. She said Abercrombie thinks that his secrecy will help the process.
"The governor believes getting the names out is detrimental to attracting prospective judicial applicants," Dela Cruz said after talking it over with Abercrombie.
Abercrombie's reasoning is hogwash.
If you want to be a judge, the first thing you do is apply with the Judicial Selection Commission, which then scrutinizes all the applicants. The top ones are interviewed, their resumes are checked and then a list is sent to the governor. The commission's work is done in secret, so that lawyers don't discover that their partners are looking to become judges or clients see their lawyers tried to become a judge and then failed.
There have been protests about it, and this newspaper is asking that the state Office of Information Practices makes the list public — but in the meantime, Abercrombie is keeping it a secret.
This is not good because the public does not have any way to judge how it gets its judges.
First, you don't know if the Judicial Selection Commission is sending up three stiffs and only one decent nominee, thereby forcing the governor to essentially pick the candidate the commission wants.
And the public doesn't know if the governor is picking liberal defense attorneys, only women, only conservative prosecutors or only his buddies. If the public could see the list of nominees, it would understand the governor's options.
Despite Abercrombie's early fascination with social media, his communication with the public since his election has been mostly absent. When he was in Congress, there was little need to communicate except at election time, but now he has a job with bigger responsibilities.
Abercrombie now is not a representative from Hawaii — he is the leader of the state and his obligation to open government has grown.