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Senate committee votes against Ige’s choice for PUC

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  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2016

    Nominee Tom Gorak, right, has been serving as interim member of the state Public Utilities Commission since governor David Ige appointed him in June.

The state Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health committee recommended the full Senate reject Gov. David Ige’s controversial nominee to the state agency that regulates Hawaii’s utilities.

Nominee Tom Gorak has been serving as interim member of the state Public Utilities Commission since Ige appointed him in June — a move that stirred controversy and a lawsuit from a former PUC chairwoman, as it came days before the PUC’s decision to reject Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc.’s $4.3 billion bid to buy Hawaii’s largest electric utility.

“I strongly recommend against the appointment of this nominee and encourage the members of this committee to not advise and consent,” committee Chairwoman Rosalyn Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui) said at a Friday hearing.

The committee voted 4-3 to not recommend confirmation of Gorak. The decision is now up to the full Senate, which can confirm Gorak if 13 of the 25 senators vote in favor before May 4.

Baker said the issue with Gorak is not about his qualifications, but how the governor made the appointment without consulting the Senate.

“The end result (of approving Gorak) would be that the constitutional authority of the Senate to advise and consent would be permanently diminished and the inappropriate actions of the executive would be legitimized,” Baker said.

The vote was made after Gorak addressed the committee, following speakers from Hawaii’s energy community who voiced support and opposition to his nomination.

During his testimony, Gorak said he did not ask to be nominated and the governor never asked his opinion of NextEra’s purchase of HEI.

“The way I was raised, when the governor of the state calls you and asks you to do something you say yes,” Gorak said. “And I said yes.”

More than 30 individuals have submitted written testimony supporting Gorak’s appointment. Some of those in support included PUC Chairman Randy Iwase, former Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono, the Sierra Club of Hawaii and Mark Duda of Hawaii PV Coalition.

Two people testified against his appointment, including former PUC Chairwoman Mina Morita and a former PUC staff member.

Morita filed a lawsuit against Ige’s appointment seeking to remove Gorak, alleging he had no legal right to hold the position. A Hawaii First Circuit Court ruled in August that Ige’s appointment of Gorak is valid. Morita’s appeal of that ruling is pending with the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals.

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