Interview with DLNR Nominee

Ching has been universally acknowledged to be a nice man – a person with whom you’d enjoy chatting during your children’s soccer games.  But putting him in charge of the Department of Land and Natural Resources is like handing him a scalpel and asking him to take out your appendix.  He just doesn’t have the training nor the background to do the job. And it’s going to take more than a crash course to get him up to speed.

It appears that Governor Ige tapped him for the job due to Ige’s profound lack of understanding of DLNR’s role.

Ige, an engineer, has some magical thinking around the subject of business executives. The governor appears to believe they are the hammer that can accomplish every task.

Ching, a well compensated lobbyist for Castle & Cooke, is obviously good at what he does.  As Og Mandino advises in his book, The Greatest Salesman in the World, the secret to selling (or lobbying) is to believe in your product.  Ching believes in Castle & Cooke’s product – so much so that he took on the job of vice president of Land Use Research Foundation (LURF), an organization dedicated to advancing laws favoring developers.

When Gov. Ing asked Ching to take on the task of leading DLNR, Ching acquiesced out of a sense of civic duty although even he realizes he doesn’t have the experience needed.

That became alarmingly clear when Carleton Ching sat down with with Maui Hawaiian and environmental leaders on Saturday in a four hour frank discussion of his nomination to head Department of Land and Natural Resources.

He was unfamiliar with the Public Trust doctrine. It appeared he wasn’t even aware that there is a hierarchy of water users when he answered a question regarding private water companies on Maui.  Not only was he unfamiliar with the subject, the companies, or the controversies, he was unaware that the Public Trust doctrine pretty much puts them last in line for water.  He admitted his lack of knowledge with the subject and fell back on his stock answer which was that he would “balance” the competing needs and follow the law.

How do you “follow the law” when you don’t know it exists let alone understand it?

Why would you “balance” the competing uses of water when the law lays out in detail a hierarchy of users?

The head of DLNR is an advocate for natural resources.  He (or she) is not supposed to “balance” private profit against public welfare!

When we think “lobbyist” we generally think of sleazy, dirty tricks like those of PRP and of PR people who don’t care which side they lobby for as long as they get paid.

Carleton Ching is cut in a different mold.  He truly believes in development and in the goals of LURF.  He talks about “switching jerseys” and going to work for the other team (DLNR) and wants to apply the same techniques of “efficiency” to “move the needle forward” that he applies to his job at Castle & Cooke.  One has to give him credit for leaving his cushy job when tapped for public service and approaching it with sincerity.

But how do you switch your deeply held beliefs and attitudes?

I was left believing that he would do the best job he could.  But that job would be colored by his sincerely held belief that government needs to get out of the way of developers and that development is a priori assumed to be good unless proven otherwise.

The DLNR head is supposed to protect conservation lands.  Not “balance” their uses with private developers!

The “inefficiencies” he’d like to eliminate include more than one layer of development approval. For instance developers have to get permission both from the Land Use Commission and the counties for their projects.  While acknowledging that the LUC considers state land use law while the counties consider their own local plans, he advocated for combining these two reviews into a single review in the interests of saving time and money.

DLNR is woefully underfunded.  In fact we’re 49th in the U.S. as far as funding. In a state where tourism based on its natural resources is the top employer, this seems short-sighted.

All the “efficiencies” in the world won’t help when there just plain isn’t adequate funding.

DLNR employees, on the whole, have a passion for what they do. Their passion is to act as stewards of the land. They’ve lived and breathed the methods and laws involved in protecting Hawaii’s unique resources.

When Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement (DOCARE) Maui didn’t have money for offices, the staff came in on their weekends with their own materials and tools and built offices in the abandoned armory which was all DLNR could afford for them.

As newly retired DOCARE head, Randy Awo, pointed out Governor Ige has been “purging”  those with a passion and history of environmental protection from DLNR.  In fact another person extended this to all agencies calling it “The night of the long knives” as effective leaders like William Aila, Mina Morita and Gary Gill were demoted or let go.

For all of Abercrombie’s faults, he appointed experienced experts to the board and agencies.  It is mystifying as to why Ige is systematically replacing  technical experts with lobbyists, businessmen and Oahu political insiders with no real knowledge of the job let alone a passion for it.

Awo took issue with Ching’s statement that he’d “move the needle forward” at DLNR, pointing to the immense strides that were made under William Aila despite the meagre funds allocated.

To his credit, Ching praised Aila. When asked, he couldn’t explain why Aila had been removed as head of DLNR.

Bottom line: Is it enough to be a nice person and sincerely want to answer the call of service? Almost 7,000 people say ‘no’ in an online petition asking the senate not to confirm.



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