HONOLULU — Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green has appointed a former carpenters’ union official to be his chief of staff months after a super PAC funded by the union spent over $1 million supporting his candidacy in the Democratic Party primary.
Brooke Wilson most recently served as political and education director for the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters. She’s the only incoming staff member from the carpenters’ union.
Green said Tuesday he’s proud to have assembled a diverse staff, noting seven out of nine members are women. He said he’s “committed to hiring experienced hardworking people who care about Hawaii.” He declined to comment further.
Will Espero, a former state senator who was among four candidates defeated by Green in a crowded Democratic primary, said many residents will scratch their heads at the selection, which is one of Green’s first big decisions as lieutenant governor.
“I find it surprising that he would make that appointment because it does look like a quid pro quo or a payback. That might not be his intention, but it certainly smells or looks like it,” Espero said. “And that’s very unfortunate. Because it then looks like he is thanking them for their assistance on his campaign.”
Espero said he doesn’t have sour grapes about his election loss, and he knows Wilson to be intelligent and capable. But he said the appointment is questionable.
Wilson declined to comment.
State Campaign Spending Commission documents show the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters contributed $3 million to the Be Change Now super political action committee in May. Commission documents show Be Change Now spent $1.18 million on pro-Green television ad time, Facebook and Google advertisements and ad production between May and early August.
Lieutenant governor races tend to attract attention in Hawaii as the job has often been a stepping stone to higher offices like governor and U.S. senator. But Espero said Be Change Now spent an unprecedented amount for a lieutenant governor’s race in the state.
The super PAC spent about $500,000 to support Colleen Hanabusa’s failed attempt to unseat Gov. David Ige in the Democratic primary. It spent another half-million dollars opposing Ige’s bid for re-election.
Under U.S. law, super PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to campaign independently for candidates. They aren’t allowed to coordinate with the candidates they support.
Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii’s public policy center, said it’s not uncommon for someone of Wilson’s background to serve as chief of staff, noting the position requires an understanding of how to move legislation, good contacts and someone who can be the political point person.
However, he said the optics might not be good. “It shows how close he is to that union. Whether that’s a good decision or a bad decision is ultimately up to the voters,” Moore said.
Neal Milner, a retired University of Hawaii political science professor, said that while “you can certainly see the links” in the appointment, they’re not necessarily untoward.
“In the scheme of things, considering what politics is like right now, my eyebrow barely gets raised at this one,” he said.
The Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
Be Change Now’s chairman, Joshua Magno, works for Pacific Resource Partnership, which is a Hawaii advocacy group representing the carpenters union and more than 240 contractors. Pacific Resource Partnership was behind a political action committee that opposed former Gov. Ben Cayetano’s unsuccessful campaign for Honolulu mayor in 2012 because he wanted to block the city’s planned rail project.
Magno didn’t return a voicemail message seeking comment. In an opinion piece published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in August, he said Be Change Now supports candidates “who share our local values and will fight for what residents want: good-paying jobs, homes they can afford, a quality education for their children, access to healthcare and having the safeguards in place to protect our precious and fragile environment.”