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Slom solos on Democrats' stage

By Mark Niesse / Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 1:53 a.m. HST, Nov 16, 2010

As the only Republican survivor in Hawaii's Senate, Sam Slom worries that majority Democrats could ram their proposals into law, sink his legislation or stifle his enthusiastic speeches.

While most of the country experienced a Republican tidal wave on Election Day, Slom is the last GOP stalwart in the Hawaii Senate. There were two Republicans, but Sen. Fred Hemmings didn't seek re-election and a Democrat took his place.

Republicans grew in the 51-member state House, from six to eight, but still left Hawaii with the most one-sided legislature in the country.

"It's going to be long days and long nights," said Slom, who represents Diamond Head and Hawaii Kai. "I'm up for the task. Nobody twisted my arm."

The solitude of being outnumbered 24-1 comes with a few practical realities and difficulties.

Slom is now the party's minority leader, floor leader and policy leader. He's a member of all 15 Senate committees, with no way to attend them all.

When he makes a motion on the Senate floor, he'll have to rely on a Democrat to second it before he can move forward.

"I could make a motion with the right hand and second it with the left hand," Slom said.

Slom sees himself not just as speaking for his district, but as a representative for all the state's voters who supported Republican candidates during this month's elections.

Democrats don't intend to stand in Slom's way too much, and they'll even second his motions, said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.

"We're going to work with him," said Galuteria (D, Downtown-Waikiki). "We're looking toward creating collaborative solutions here. I don't want to sound naive. I think it's possible."

NO OTHER legislative body in the country has just one Republican or one Democrat, according to statistics gathered by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republicans have a few ideas for leveling the playing field, at least a little bit.

Volunteers and interns may be hired to track legislation. Social media efforts may be increased through Twitter and Facebook. Slom wants to broadcast committee hearings live over the Internet, especially when he can't attend.

Instead of negotiating with Democrats, Slom will have to rely on public pressure on Democrats to achieve goals of lower taxes and smaller government, said Lynn Finnegan, a Republican who served as House minority leader before running for lieutenant governor.

"His power is going to come from his ability to communicate with the constituents, the voters across the state," Finnegan said. "Those support groups will put pressure on the Democrats to be more reasonable."

Having such monolithic political representation damages government transparency and accountability, said Jamie Story, president for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which promotes free markets and small government.

"It limits the opportunity for real debate on the issues," Story said. "Most of the issues are already decided before they ever get a hearing, much less voted on the floor."

Research staffing levels for Senate Republicans will remain the same next year, but they won't be getting help from the office staff of other GOP senators as they did in years past, said Keoki Leong, director for Senate Minority Research.

Slom said he'll continue to be an effective check on Democrats, and he'll call on the business community to support him from the Senate gallery during major votes.

"It will be an adventure," he said. "Whether it's as the Lone Ranger or the Green Lantern, I'm ready to go."

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