KAILUA-KONA — Nolan Espinda expressed his gratitude to the state Senate after he was confirmed Wednesday to lead the state Department of Public Safety for another four years.
The Senate voted 17-8 to confirm Espinda despite a recommendation earlier this month by the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs to reject his nomination. Two of Hawaii Island’s senators — Lorraine Inouye, D-North Hawaii, and Dru Kanuha, D-Kona, Ka‘u — voted to confirm Espinda. Kanuha voted yes with reservations.
For months, the embattled director was questioned by the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, during which various concerns about the Public Safety Department were raised, including a riot at a Maui jail, recent fatal shootings of an Oahu jail inmate and a homeless man at the state Capitol, as well as more than a dozen mistaken releases from the Hawaii County jail.
During a press conference after the confirmation hearing, Gov. David Ige stood beside Espinda and expressed his support and belief in the director.
“The Department of Public Safety has many challenges as we’ve learned,” said Ige. “I’ve always believed Nolan Espinda was the right man for the job to continue our efforts.”
Espinda told reporters he was grateful to the Senate for taking the time to question, critique and offer suggestions and demands.
“It’s been a challenging four months, but I have nothing but praise and credit to the Senate in their ability to remain fair and objective during the process, giving me every opportunity to address any questions they had,” he said. “(I) look forward to continuing the progress we’ve established over the last four years and build on our success moving forward.”
Espinda was clear that he takes responsibility for all that transpires in the department.
“Everything that happens in this department, regardless at what level, is my responsibility,” he said. “I’ve never shrugged from that, I never will.”
A Hawaii News Now video stream of the confirmation hearing captured senators’ comments.
Sen. Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, was one of the eight dissenting votes. The senator said the director position is not an easy job and think Espinda is a dedicated public servant.
“There are clearly systemic problems and have been for years,” Kahele said on the Senate floor.
Were it not for the recent “serious breaches,” Kahele admitted he would be voting to confirm Espinda.
“As an elected official, I simply cannot ignore that there have been two fatal shootings, a riot and 20 inadvertent releases since September 2015 on Hawaii Island,” Kahele said. “There needs to be accountability, and that accountability needs to start at the top.”
Inouye gave a confident yes vote for Espinda, saying the director has been blamed incorrectly for some of his department’s deficiencies.
“He has been slighted in newspapers, social media, in emails and phone calls,” she said.
Espinda, in Inouye’s mind, is a reformer and “folks who think otherwise don’t like it.”
“I look at him as one when the going gets tough, the tough gets going,” she said.
Email Tiffany DeMasters at email@example.com.