Elections out of the norm

About this time of year in most states, the administrative and fiscal year for most governments flips on July 1. The only notice of this, to most people, is when the newscasters bring up a laundry list of new laws that take effect “on July 1”, in line with the new fiscal and administrative year.

Apart from activities that take place at the beginning of a new fiscal year, various other actions occur. For example, in Honolulu, the individual Neighborhood Boards organize an election to select the chair and vice chair for the upcoming year. Similarly, the Governor or Mayor appoints members to the governmental boards, and elections are held among them to determine the chair and vice chair of the respective bodies.

In the majority of cases, elections pass by unnoticed by the news media. Even for the larger bodies, no one is typically reporting on who got elected to what.

But once in a while, you get a tap on the virtual shoulder to check out a meeting where they are holding elections for leadership and find out that the process can be a bit effervescent.

PC; “University of Hawaii” by InSapphoWeTrust is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Take for instance the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents.

The Board of Regents convened a special meeting on Thursday, July 6th to elect its chair and two vice chairs for the upcoming year. With Regent Randy Moore’s term coming to an end and new members joining the Board, it was certain that new leadership would take charge of the Regents.

According to a reliable source acquainted with the Board of Regents (who gave me said tap), the prevailing culture and anticipated behavior often resolve matters before the official public gathering.

(How that occurs, with the Board being bound to Sunshine Law requirements, beats me).  

But this time around, for whatever reason, the “established culture” that gives direction to such things as elections, was not followed.

It started with the election of a chair. With procedural questions out of the way, nominations ensued for the office. By the time nominations closed, three names were put forward. Regents Ernest K. Wilson, Alapaki Nahale-a, and Gabriel Lee.

With this being a secret ballot procedure, each election from here on out would take a few minutes to calculate, as all 11 Regents were in attendance, and each vote was contested. The first vote for Regent was 2 for Wilson, 4 for Lee, and 5 for Nahale-a.

From top:
Alapaki Nahale-a Interim Hawaiʻi County
Ernest Wilson Maui County
Gabriel Lee Honolulu County
PC: University of Hawaii Board of Regents

Even though Nahale-a emerged as the winner in the vote, a question arose regarding the basis of his election. The issue was whether his win was determined by the majority of the Regents’ votes or a simple majority of all the votes cast. President David Lassner provided insights on the board’s bylaws and suggested the possibility of holding a re-run of the election with the top two candidates.

With Regent Wilson removing his name from the ballot, a vote was re-held for who would be chair, between Regents Nahale-a and Lee. Nahale-a won the vote, 7 to 4.

The next two elections, one for each of the Vice-Chair positions, would see candidates that ran for Chair once again put their names on the ballot, along with a new, very familiar name in Hawai‘i politics.

For the first Vice Chair, Regent Lee was once again nominated, along with Regent Wayne Higaki. Regent Lee won that ballot 7 to 4, putting him into leadership. The Second Vice Chair would see Regent Wilson nominated, and former Governor Neil Abercrombie, one of 2 new Regents nominated by State Governor Josh Green, self-nominating for the chair.

Regent Wilson won that ballot 8 to 4 over the former Governor.

The Regent leadership is now in position, with most of them having at least 2 more years left in their appointment. The student Regent is the only outlier, with their term ending next year. This group will be responsible for providing directions to the University system. Even though Board of Regents meetings may not draw a large audience, their choices hold great influence on the state in numerous ways.

For instance, the Board of Regents must approve any new curriculum for credit courses. All appointments, including those for informational purposes, are presented to the Board of Regents. The Regents are also involved in legislative matters and sports issues, even if it is just to stay informed.

And with the tussle between the University and the Legislature on the nature of “autonomy” that the University currently has (on the books) from legislative meddling, the fact that multiple individuals were interested in assuming leadership roles on the Board could potentially have a positive impact on its long-term decisions, then if it were to have been chosen “within the norm”.