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Senate panel defers vote on Ching’s DLNR nomination

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    Gov. David Ige shakes hands with Carlton Ching, the governor's nominee to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources, before testifying at Ching's confirmation hearing.

A state Senate committee heard nearly nine hours of testimony Wednesday on Gov. David Ige’s nominee to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources, but wants to hear more from the nominee himself before making a decision.

The Senate Committee on Water and Land closed its hearing before 7 p.m. with chairwoman Sen. Laura Thielen saying the panel still has more questions for Carleton Ching and will reconvene at 1 p.m. Thursday. After more questioning, the panel is expected to vote on whether to recommend his nomination to the full Senate.

Wednesday’s daylong hearing began at 10 a.m., with many who came to testify saying they oppose Ching’s nomination because of his background in development.

Hundreds of testifiers submitted more than 1,000 pages of written testimony before the hearing, with many opposing the nominee because of his background in development. 

Public testimony ended about 3:30 p.m., followed by several hours of Ching answering questions from the panel.

Ige told senators earlier in the day that his discussions with Ching “give me hope and belief that he is the best person to do this job.”

“I know that he understands that if you give him the privilege of serving as the director of this department and chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, that he will make all of us proud as he works to engage the community and lead this department that has such an important task,” Ige said.

Most recently, Ching served as vice president of community and government relations for Castle & Cooke Hawaii, a development firm where he worked for more than a dozen years. He was instrumental in the development of the land company’s controversial Koa Ridge project between Waipahu and Mililani. The project received rezoning approval to build 3,500 homes from the Honolulu City Council in late 2013 despite concerns raised about traffic and the loss of agricultural lands.

Numerous environmental groups had called on Ige to withdraw Ching’s nomination, citing his lack of experience on issues like coral reefs, fishing and hunting, but Ige has stood behind the nomination.

“His career track has been the polar opposite of the DLNR mission,” said Randy Awo, who recently retired after serving for 27 years in DLNR’s enforcement division.

Ching countered that he has a deep respect for Hawaii’s resources and has worked to bring stakeholders together to reach compromises.

“Providing shelter for Hawaii’s families is a good thing,” Ching said. “We built neighborhoods. We built community. We allowed families to build their equity.” 

“I will engage public and private stakeholders to find a balance, to find that sweet spot,” Ching said. 

During the hearing, opponents spoke of Ching’s lack of experience in the areas of environmental stewardship and historic preservation.

“You don’t hire a baseball player to serve as your football coach. Not Division I,” said David Frankel, chairman of the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter. “You don’t hire your football coach based on character.”

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