By Derrick DePledge
State Sen. Rosalyn Baker and state Rep. Della Au Belatti on Friday wrote a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie expressing their displeasure that the governor might replace Hermina Morita as the chairwoman of the state Public Utilities Commission.
The letter, signed by seven other senators and 15 other representatives, urges Abercrombie to reconsider and announce his full support for Morita by appointing her to a new term.
The shortcomings that you seemingly blame on Chair Morita represent shortcomings in the state system, complexity in PUC rules, and matters over which one Commissioner -- even the Chair -- cannot fully control.
When Chair Morita arrived at the PUC, it needed steady leadership to provide guidance, direction, and restore public trust. That was no easy task, but chair Morita led that effort with her quiet yet effective style. It also seems to us that Chair Morita is being blamed for collective impartial decisions by the PUC based on sound legal analysis, due diligence as required of the PUC by state law, and careful and considered attention to unnecessary negative impacts to the ratepaying public. The PUC, in our view, has an obligation to act in the public interest no matter who the petitioner may be or may have as its representative or consultant.
That last line was a veiled reference to William Kaneko, Abercrombie's campaign manager, who represented Aina Koa Pono, a biofuel company that sought PUC approval for a refinery deal with Hawaii Electric Light Co. The PUC rejected the deal after concluding it would be too expensive on ratepayers.
Abercrombie's advisers have said that no final decision has been made on Morita, who is well-regarded in the environmental community.
The governor made a point -- at some political cost -- of wanting his own people on state boards and commissions so he could achieve his "New Day" agenda. Morita was the governor's choice for the PUC, so if she has not performed to expectations, it is a reflection on the governor as well as Morita.
In February 2012, when Abercrombie was reassessing whether to keep Michael Champley on the PUC, sources close to the governor identified Morita as a potential concern as chairwoman.