HONOLULU (KHON2) — Two of Governor Josh Green’s nominations to head key departments in the State were grilled by Senate committees on Thursday, March 16 — One for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), the other for the Department of Business, Economic, Development and Tourism (DBEDT). 

The Senate committee on Hawaiian Affairs held a confirmation hearing to discuss Kali Watson, Gov. Green’s pick to head DHHL.

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Watson is the second candidate nominated by Green for the position. His first pick, Ikaika Anderson, withdrew his bid after the Senate denied his confirmation.

Many showed up to testify in support of Watson, who previously held the position from 1995 to 1998.

One testifier said Watson exceeds the qualifications for this position. 

“He is a visionary that will bring his experience, knowledge and passion to this vital role for us. He understands the department’s challenges; he has a demonstrated track record of finding solutions and has already returned thousands of Native Hawaiians to the home lands,” the testifier explained.

Others, like Makaia Villanueva, expressed concerns regarding Watson’s non profit the Hawaiian Community Development Board.

“To hear some of the testimonies shared today as of his character was very nice to hear; however, I do oppose his appointment until the due diligence concerning the conflict of interest are released by this committee,” Villanueva said.

Sen. Les Ihara, Jr. questioned Watson about his business.

“Did you have any financial interest or relationship with any of the development companies that the nonprofit contracted with in order to build homes?” Ihara asked.

“No, no,” Watson responded. “I don’t.”

“So, that’ll help me by getting down to these core questions. It’ll settle a lot of … Then, I don’t have to ask a lot,” said Ihara.

“No, that would be a conflict,” Watson explained. “I wouldn’t do that.”

After hours of discussion, the committee voted in Watson’s favor. Only Sen. Kurt Fevella, opposed the vote.

Chris Sadayasu, Green’s nominee to head DBEDT, did not fair as well.

Despite a great deal of testimony in favor of Sadayasu, Sen. Lynn DeCoite and Sen. Donna Mercado Kim grilled him, questioning his leadership skills and past decisions.

“While every other table is filled and people are walking around, what’s going on with our department?” DeCoite asked showing Sadayasu a video of a conference people under his direction were supposed to be attending.

“I don’t know,” Sadayasu said.

“We’re looking at budgets. We’re looking at how to allocate funding. We’re looking at whether or not we’re working collaboratively with all the different arms. And, you don’t know what’s going on?” DeCoite said.

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim questioned Sadayasu about decisions he made as a Development Manager for the Aloha Tower Development Corporation between 2008 and 2010.

“Can you explain your evaluation process? You approved every budget request in second round,” she said referring to documents.  “And, pay raises, pay differentials and so forth and then you categorized all 60 of these requests, you accepted all 60 — you didn’t reject anyone — and 50 of them were all rated number one priority.”

The five of the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism (EET)  members voted against Sadayasu. Only Sen. Carol Fukunaga voted for him.

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Both candidates’ nominations will move forward for a vote and final consideration by the full senate.