Hawaii's only Republican state senator embraces the title of the Lone Ranger, because that means he's one of the good guys
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 26, 2010
Maybe it's fitting that Sam Slom will be the only Republican in the state Senate when the 2011 session is gaveled to order in January.
In some ways, he has always been a party of one.
He stands up for what he believes and says he respects those who do the same, even if he doesn't agree with their views.
Above all, he will always -- always -- tell you what he thinks.
He doesn't worry about ruffling feathers, even if it means endorsing John Carroll over Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona in the GOP primary ... calling members of the state House "crazy" ... waxing skeptical about Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie ("'A New Beginning'? C'mon.") ... or offering sharp-tongued critiques of the losing campaigns run by Aiona and U.S. Rep. Charles Djou.
Slom, 68, has been a loud-and-clear voice of fiscal and social conservatism in the Senate since 1996. As Republican fortunes have waned, he has become a party institution at the state Capitol. Now, with Fred Hemmings' vacated seat lost, he is the caucus in its entirety -- minority leader, floor leader, policy leader and member of all 14 of the Senate's operating committees.
Typically, Slom remains upbeat and confident.
"Some of you in the media have called me the Lone Ranger," he says. "Well, the way I remember it, the Lone Ranger was the good guy. I'm not sure whether I'll have to wear a mask or not. But he had his faithful companion and he also had a lot of people who helped, and they were always glad to see him come to town."
QUESTION: You must be used to being outnumbered here by now, but what's the game plan going in when it's 24-1?
ANSWER: Twenty-four to one, right. It's the fourth quarter. It's fourth-and-25. Quarterback sneak! It's interesting, because I've seen some of the stories and some of the blogs where people say, "If you look up the word 'irrelevant,' you'll see Sam Slom's picture." I've heard people say that before. They said it when it was just Fred (Hemmings) and me. They said it when there were five of us. But people who say that miss an important point: Conservatives -- and conservative Republicans in particular -- have always placed a great deal of emphasis on the individual and what an individual can do. So whether it's five of us or two of us or one of us, it's not irrelevant to the fact that more than 45 percent of the people chose Republican candidates and they need a voice.
Q: All things considered, you seem to be in remarkably good spirits.
A: Every day you have to smile when you go to work. You put your game face on, because everybody else has enough problems. They don't want to hear you whining and moaning, "Oh, I'm the only one ... oh, I don't have this and I can't get that." Well, then don't take the job. Nobody forced me to do this.
(To track happenings in) the 14 (Senate committees), I'm going to rely a great deal on volunteers and people who have indicated, "We want to help you. What can we do?" OK, now I have some specific things. I want to make sure that all of the committees are covered to the best of our ability every day.
One of the things I'm going to be doing is holding weekly press conferences (to raise issues or concerns). We hope the regular media shows up, but whether they do or don't, we're going to make sure it gets out to other sources. It will be on the Internet, we'll get it to neighborhood boards. I'm calling on organizations to help -- church groups, unions -- whoever wants to help is fine with me.
Q: Does this mean that you've decided, down 24-1, to become the watchdog of the Senate as opposed to spending a lot of time introducing legislation that's unlikely to pass?
A: I don't know if I'd call it being a watchdog, other than to point out things that maybe have not been pointed out.
This is really going to be a tough year. Those people who have been writing that we've turned the corner ... not true. Certain segments of certain industries have turned the corner. I applaud the visitor industry because it is our primary industry and we want them to be as healthy as possible. But a lot of that is coming from rate cutting, and a lot is coming from improvements in other economies that allow people to come here. That's great. But I deal with small businesses, which are 98 percent of the businesses in this community, and they haven't turned the corner. They're suffering. There are a lot of them who are holding on by their fingernails.
Q: Do you have any specific legislation that you plan to push this session?
A: Yes, I do. First of all, I'm going to be back with the term limits, initiative referendum and recall. Everybody points to California and says, "Oh, my God, look at all the things they're doing." Well, we've got to be the complete opposite. We're the only state in the union that has neither statewide unlimited initiative referendum or recall. The only recall we've really seen was when Patsy Mink did it at the City Council. The initiative on the rail was very limited in what it could do. ... Fiscal notes: Oftentimes a bill will be introduced and there will be a nominal amount given -- say, $50,000 -- that they know full well is just what it takes to get the program started. ... A fiscal note requires that you put the total fiscal impact on that bill when you sign that bill. That's part of the transparency and disclosure that we need.
Q: What's your take on the (Nov. 2) elections, from the Republican point of view?
A: One thing was that the unions and other special interests said, "We're going to get Linda Lingle, ... we're going to pay her back for what she's done." ... There was some real hatred out there. ... It was the driving force: "We're going to get Lingle."
Duke, he's a nice guy. And he's accomplished a great deal. But I thought his campaign was very weak. The Republicans I spoke with -- except the ones who were working for him, and those people worked very hard, 24-7 -- there was no fire. There was no passion.
The Democrats always talk about diversity, but what did they have for their team? They had a short, old white man and a taller, younger white man. What did Republicans have? A Hawaiian man and a Filipino woman! And it was never used. Nothing positive came out of it. And those "Rise and Shine" commercials? I talked to Republicans and no one liked them. You know, his plastic face coming around the corner ... and that woman, whoever did the voiceover ... jeez.
The thing that disappointed me the most, though, were the attacks on the Lingle-Aiona administration. And he backed away. He neither defended nor explained the administration. There were two times when Linda came out -- and quite frankly she showed more cojones than most male Republicans -- because of that commercial with the empty seat. She did it. Where was he?
And Charles Djou. ... Listen, I would have given up my seat to return Charles Djou to Congress because I thought it was important that we have a Republican in Congress. But those commercials did him in, there's no question in my mind. Not only were they mean-spirited, but they were just plain flat-out wrong. OK, the unflattering picture of Colleen (Hanabusa), that was just juvenile. But when they hit her for the $75 million tax credit for Jeff Stone and Ko Olina ... hey, Charles voted for that. I voted for that. I spoke in favor of that. I thought it was a good idea. I said, "Hey, we're not going to lose anything, because if the aquarium doesn't get built, the money goes back," which it did. In the meantime, they established work for the Leeward side, scholarships, all that. That was all positive.
And the 36 percent pay raise? Well, everybody got that because of the salary commission. I railed against that years ago when it was on the ballot. I said, "You vote for that, you're going to see salaries zoom up and nobody is going to have any public hearings on it and nobody is going to be able to vote on it." And of course that's what happened. So we (later) took a 5 percent pay cut. But to single her (Hanabusa) out and to say, "She took this while you suffered," that was baloney. And I said, "Look, I understand that (the ad) came from a separate committee. But Charles, you could have said, 'No, I want to fight fair on the issues,'" because I thought he did well in the debates on the issues.
Q: What's the state of the Republican Party in Hawaii right now, and how is it going to increase its representation?
A: I would say our party has an excellent chance of rebuilding because we have a number of good candidates. But there have been problems within the party about stifling open speech and free speech and not wanting to, you know, "Oh, we don't want to step on this group or say something over here that might be taken the wrong way."
But like I said, we have a running start because we have some really good people. But the message has got to be clear, it has to be focused, it has to be easily understandable and it has to be well-communicated. And that was not done this year.
So to the extent that I can do it, to the extent that I can work with (Minority Leader) Gene Ward and the eight Republicans in the House, to the extent that we can work with the party and others, we'll do it. We're going to do that. I'm ready. Let's go.