(BIVN) – Before voting to confirm Christopher Yuen to the Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources for another term, state senators – including three from Hawaiʻi island – talked it out on the senate floor on the last day of the session.
Yuen, a Hilo-born former county planning director, previously served on the land board as the Hawaiʻi island member from 1990 to 1998, and again as the at-large member from July 2014 to the present.
Prior to the July 10 vote, the State Senate Water and Land Committee voted to not advise and consent to the Yuen nomination. The committee, chaired by Hilo State Senator Kai Kahele, said “there was overwhelming testimony and evidence that the nominee has failed to employ his full authority as a BLNR member to protect the public’s interest in our state’s public trust resources.”
However, the full senate went against the committee recommendation. Before the vote, several senators spoke in favor of the nominee, including two from the Big Island.
“Those who know Chris and have served alongside him know him for his character, his integrity, his level-headedness and his fair decision-making,” said Sen. Lorraine Inouye. “The committee report emphasizes again and again that Chris has come up on the wrong side of the vote. I respect my colleagues in doing their due diligence to make sure that the people’s interests are acknowledged and represented however i also have concerns that the committee is holding Chris responsible for decisions that were made by a majority of the BLNR board members.”
Puna State Senator Russell Ruderman also spoke in support of Yuen, and identified him as a friend. “I don’t agree with all his decisions,” Ruderman said, speaking over video conference. “The most he’s dead wrong, and the most important issue in my community, which is geothermal – he’s still willing to ignore the health impact on hundreds of my neighbors. But in that regard he’s like almost everyone else, viewing the issue at a distance. So i don’t agree with every one of his decisions. That’s what happens when you make a lot of tough decisions.”
Sen. Kahele stood his ground on the senate floor, and reiterated his opposition to the Yuen nomination. “For the many environmentalists, cultural practitioners, subsistence fishermen, farmers, limu gatherers – and yes, their legal advocates – that six years ago strongly supported this nominee but do not support his nomination today. Why is that?” Kahele asked.
“Well the answer is obviously complex. But in the final analysis these entities believe, as a subject matter chair, and the committee believe, that it is time for us to move on,” the Hilo senator said.
Kahele said the opposition to the nominee are “not losers with malicious intent, and ill-founded opinions, undeserving of an audience. They’re not threats to our democracy. These people simply care deeply, as they should, as we all should, about the natural and cultural environment we’re leaving for the next generation. And if that’s their agenda that they’re guilty of, then we owe it to them to listen more closely listen more thoughtfully and more respectfully.”
Yuen was confirmed with a vote of 16 ayes and 9 noes. Hawaiʻi island’s fourth state senator, Dru Kanuha, voted “aye” with reservations.