POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 1, 2011
An influential lobbyist who was involved in vetting Neal Palafox before he was nominated by Gov. Neil Abercrombie as director of the state Department of Health believes the doctor had nothing in his past that would have jeopardized his post.
"I'll tell you this: We vetted him as carefully as anybody could be vetted and looked into his background, his family, his relationships," said John Radcliffe, a lobbyist who was part of the transition team that reviewed Abercrombie's Cabinet picks. "This guy is a good guy."
Radcliffe said he also asked Palafox if he had anything potentially controversial to disclose. "Nothing," he said. "And I believed him. And I've talked to him subsequently, and I believe him now."
Abercrombie asked Palafox to withdraw his nomination last week. The governor and his staff have not publicly disclosed the reason. Palafox has also said he does not know the reason. He said he was not aware of a medical reimbursement investigation that was mentioned in a television news report.
"The mystery continues," said Brook Hart, Palafox's attorney. "Nothing indicates why Dr. Palafox was asked to resign."
A few senators have raised doubts about Abercrombie's vetting process. Asking a nominee to withdraw after one month on the job is unusual, and is compounded by the fact that the governor has provided no explanation publicly.
"We couldn't find anything that this guy was anything but what he purported to be, which is chairman of the department of family practice at the University of Hawaii and one of life's good guys," Radcliffe said.
Donalyn Dela Cruz, a spokeswoman for Abercrombie, said the governor is still looking at potential replacements for Palafox. Loretta Fuddy is the department's acting director until the new appointment is made.