The discussion following yesterday’s post on Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s requests for the resignations of board and commission members took a turn to the selection process for University of Hawai’i regents, so let’s stick with that for another day.
The governor used to appoint regents of his or her choosing, subject to confirmation by the Senate — similar to the process recently enacted for appointing the Board of Education.
But in a move to handcuff former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, the Legislature pushed through a constitutional amendment forcing the governor to pick regents from a list provided by a selection panel that can provide as few as two choices.
Then-UH President David McClain derided the selection panel as a “Noah’s Ark” of special interests, and the leading national organization for accrediting colleges and universities recommended strongly against the change as bad practice.
They were right and the system has been fraught with problems. In one instance, one of the two candidates provided Lingle by the selection panel withdrew and the Supreme Court ruled that she had no right to a replacement, leaving her with a single choice.
More recently, Abercrombie didn’t like the few candidates given him for two Big Island seats, but was turned down by the panel when he asked for more choices. He appointed from what he had and the Senate Education Committee rejected both nominees as ill qualified.
Defenders say the system prevents the concentration of too much power with the governor, but also complain about the sometimes low number and poor quality of applicants who send resumes to the selection panel.
We were far better off when the governor could go out and recruit qualified regents instead of being limited to the sometimes lackluster choices that the selection panel receives over the transom.
Our democratic tradition is an executive branch of government that appoints and a legislative branch that advises and consents, with ample checks and accountability on both sides.
These selection panels impose an advisory branch of government in between the governor and Legislature that only obscures the clean line of accountability that’s our best shot at keeping the system honest. Spreading the power around too thinly only guarantees that little gets done.
Lingle, Abercrombie and Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda all agree that the system for appointing UH regents is flawed and needs to be fixed.
The Legislature should attend to it next session.