Unsuccessful state Senate hopeful files complaint

One of the unsuccessful applicants for the Central Maui state Senate seat vacated by Shan Tsutsui has filed a complaint with the state Democratic Party chairman about the process to name a successor, assailing the process as “blatant arrogance” and unfair.

Cliff R. Libed, one of seven applicants for the state Senate District 5 seat, said Friday that four of the applicants were members of the district Democratic Party nominating committee and were allowed to vote in the process to name three candidates from which Gov. Neil Abercrombie would choose Tsutsui’s successor. Those candidates chose to proxy their three votes with other members of the committee, Libed said he learned from an unnamed “reliable source.”

He also said that Kallie Keith-Agaran, wife of another applicant, Gil Keith-Agaran, was allowed to vote for her husband. Keith-Agaran was eventually selected by Abercrombie to fill the open seat, created by the ascension of Tsutsui to lieutenant governor in a domino effect of appointments and vacancies created by the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye on Dec. 17.

“This would appear to be a conflict of interest” for those five applicants and created “an unfair disadvantage” to him and another applicant, Nicanor E. Casumpang Jr., Libed wrote in his appeal Sunday to Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Dante Carpenter.

“We’re not stupid, but they treat us like we’re stupid,” Libed said Friday when contacted by The Maui News. “I think it was arrogant the way it was conducted.”

Maui County Democratic Party officials reached Friday stood by their process that allowed members of the committee to vote for themselves and for their spouses. They said they were following party rules and precedence from the process to select Inouye’s replacement and noted that the rules and the names of nominating committee members were handed out to all applicants prior to the vote Jan. 5, leaving open the option of an appeal to Carpenter.

Party leaders also encouraged those unhappy with the selection rules to join the process and drum up support to change those rules at the county party convention.

“I didn’t see anything wrong with it (the process),” said Justin Hughey, the District 5 State Senate Ad-hoc Nominating Committee chairman. “None of these things are against the party rules.”

He said that all the rules were agreed to by the committee and that they tried to mirror as much as possible the process used by the state Democratic Party Central Committee in providing the governor with three names to fill Inouye’s seat, which ended up going to then-Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Troy Hashimoto, corresponding secretary for the Maui County Democratic Party, noted that Tony Gill, a member of the Democratic Party Central Committee, was permitted to vote for himself in the U.S. Senate selection process.

He added that the four applicants who were on the committee by virtue of being precinct officers and leaders – Loretta Giannotti, Robert George Hill III, Natalie A. “Tasha” Kama and Mary D. Wagner – were not allowed in the discussion, only to cast votes for three candidates.

“We do feel that it was a fair process, following the processes that were set forth,” Hashimoto said. “We looked at the process over and over again, and we followed the process correctly.”

When asked if the candidates could have recused themselves from voting, Hashimoto said that they had that option.

He continued that those who are upset with the rules to fill a legislative vacancy midterm, which occurs very infrequently, should “get involved” and add a rule to preclude applicants for a post from being able to vote for themselves.

“We encourage those who feel it should be changed to come out and get involved in the party,” Hashimoto said.

He said that there are no clear rules of appeal in the selection process, but Carpenter could send Libed’s appeal to the state party Central Committee, which would have the final say. He did note that there is a party rule that an appeal has to be filed within five days of the action that is being appealed.

Libed said that the selection process created “an unfair advantage” for the four precinct leaders and Keith-Agaran. He said disclosures of potential conflicts of interest should have been made and that they should not have been allowed to proxy or to cast votes.

“To me, it’s a violation of ethics,” he said.

At this point, Libed said that he just wants his appeal heard and the process examined.

“The outcome is not my decision,” he said.

Libed wanted to make clear that he harbors no ill will toward Gil Keith-Agaran, whom he called an “upstanding citizen.”

For his part, Keith-Agaran said that he hopes that his wife “did vote for me.”

“I think they (the nominating committee) followed the rules,” he said, noting that a similar situation occurred when he was appointed to fill the vacancy in the state House after the death of Bob Nakasone.

He said he was a member of the selection panel and was eventually appointed to replace Nakasone.

“I don’t think what happened this time is any different from what we’ve done in the past,” he said, adding that he got 30 of the 36 votes of the committee.

Keith-Agaran didn’t see any problem with voting for himself.

“I don’t think anyone can say I can’t vote for myself when I go into a voting booth,” he said. “That is silly.

“I hope my wife would vote for me, my mother would vote for me, my sister would vote for me. That is the nature of elections.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.