Guam-born Hawaiian Esther Kiaaina may be the next U.S. Interior assistant secretary for insular affairs. Saipan Tribune learned yesterday that she’s the only one being vetted by the White House for the post, at least as of this time.
Kiaaina, 50, is currently deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and is formerly a Democratic candidate for Congress to represent Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district.
If everything goes smoothly, Kiaaina may be the permanent replacement for Tony Babauta, a native of Guam.
Babauta resigned on Feb. 1 this year amidst grants and travel investigations. At the time, Babauta told the Interior secretary that he believes his work “improved the Office of Insular Affairs.”
Kiaaina was born in Guam to Hawaiian parents. Her parents left Hawaii when her father was stationed in Guam while serving in the U.S. Navy.
She moved to Oahu in 1978. She graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1981 and received her bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science from the University of Southern California. She attended George Washington University to receive her J.D. and Johns Hopkins SAIS to receive her master’s degree.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), when sought for comment yesterday, said Kiaaina “certainly has the background and expertise to be considered for assistant secretary of Interior for insular affairs.”
Sablan has been pushing for the nomination of a permanent assistant secretary as soon as possible.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the insular areas, including the CNMI.
“I do think that sufficient time has gone by for the While House to have vetted a candidate for the position of assistant secretary. And, as much as I appreciate the excellent job that acting assistant secretary Eileen Sobeck has done, I look forward to having a permanent, Senate‑confirmed leader advocating island interests in the Department of the Interior,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.
Sablan said he has known Kia’aina since his days working for Senator Daniel Inouye in the mid-1980s.
“She is highly competent, having been chief of staff for both Congressman Bob Underwood of Guam and Ed Case of Hawaii. And, as a Pacific Islander, Ms. Kia’aina is someone who is knowledgeable about our region and familiar with the Northern Mariana Islands,” the delegate said.
He said any decision about presidential nominations is something the White House keeps to itself until an official announcement is made.