Gov. David Ige withdrew Carleton Ching as his choice to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources Wednesday, just as the full state Senate was scheduled to vote on the controversial nomination.
The surprise move came amid reports of a sharply divided 25-member Senate, which was under intense lobbying pressure from the governor’s office and from environmentalists opposed to Ching.
The Senate chamber was filled to capacity in anticipation of Wednesday’s vote, but after senators emerged from a closed-door caucus, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim reconvened the meeting and announced that Ige had withdrawn the nomination.
Wednesday’s development follows nearly two months of scrutiny and vocal opposition against Ching’s nomination to lead one of the most significant state agencies. DLNR oversees 1.3 million acres, historic sites, reserves and other resources unique to the islands.
The nomination of Ching, vice president of community relations for Castle & Cooke Hawaii — one of the largest developers in the state — emerged as the first dramatic test of Gov. David Ige’s political determination.
Ige touted Ching as the best man for the job based on his integrity and his managerial experience.
But scores of environmental advocates, as well as members of the Senate, have questioned whether a longtime development lobbyist would best serve as the director safeguarding Hawaii’s natural resources.
Last week, the Senate’s Water and Land Committee, led by chairwoman Sen. Laura Thielen (D, Hawaii Kai-Waimanalo-Kailua), voted 5-2 to recommend against Ching’s nomination. The committee issued a scathing report against his leading DLNR.
More than 1,100 pieces of written testimony submitted by groups and individuals opposed confirming Ching, while more than 270 pieces of testimony from groups and people supported his confirmation, according to the committee report. Many of the groups supporting Ching were tied to construction trade and business-oriented pursuits, while those opposing are generally environmental advocates and conservation-oriented.
Ige will now have to recommend a new nominee for the position. In the interim, acting chairman Carty Chang will continue to lead the department.
Ching had been on a paid leave of absence from Castle & Cooke pending the outcome of the confirmation vote, he had said.
He was criticized for his affiliation with the Land Use Research Foundation, a group that has pushed for fast-tracked development that would bypass public and environmental scrutiny, but had maintained that he didn’t always agree with the group’s positions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.