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Say retains power as Speaker of the House

By B.J. Reyes and Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 5:39 p.m. HST, Jan 19, 2011

State House Speaker Calvin Say has retained power as the House leader after reaching a leadership agreement with dissidents.

Say, who has spent the past two months fending off a leadership challenge among fellow Democrats, thanked his colleagues for their support. He read a speech that President Abraham Lincoln gave during his second inauguration, a time of turmoil after the Civil War.

House lawmakers elected Say by voice vote.

Say, speaking to reporters, said House leaders may not announce the full leadership and committee chairmanship slate until tomorrow morning.

He did confirm, however, that state House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro would keep his post and state Rep. Marcus Oshiro would remain chairman of the influential House Finance Committee.

"The compromise was a very difficult one whereby both sides, you know, came to the conclusion that we should all be working together," Say said of his loyalists and the dissidents.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke, one of the leading dissidents, said she was pleased by the leadership agreement. "We all want to move on and get to work," she said.

Earlier today, negotiations among majority Democrats in the House took a back seat to the traditional pomp and circumstance of opening day as lawmakers began the 2011 legislative session.

By law, the representative from the 1st House District, Rep. Mark Nakashima (D, Hawi-HIlo), served temporarily as House Speaker. Opening day remarks on behalf of the Majority were delivered by Rep. Blake Oshiro, Majority Leader from last session.

Calling to mind the national debate sparked by the fatal shootings in Arizona, Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa) urged colleagues this morning to strive to become "statesmen and stateswomen" by putting aside partisan "vitriol and venom" in political debates.

"Then we can have a higher level of discussion and discourse," he said. "Then we can hopefully engage and inspire our public."

Minority Leader Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai) spoke on behalf of the eight-member GOP caucus, outlining core values of holding the line on taxes, watching over spending, spurring job growth, holding government accountable and stimulating student achievement.

"We have made great strides in recent years with STEM education, especially robotics," Ward said. "Now is the time to build on that effort."

Today marked the first time since 1971 that the House opened with leadership still in flux.

Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Palolo Valley-Wilhelmina Rise) has been negotiating privately over the past several days with Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Pacific Heights-Pauoa-Punchbowl) to end a leadership stalemate that has gone on since the November elections.

Meanwhile, the 60-day regular session opened with the return of traditional Hawaiian-style entertainment that was missing last year as lawmakers scaled-down the festivities amid the backdrop of the economic recession.

Entertainment included the Kamehameha Schools Children's Chorus, Society of Seven and Willie K, the Moanalua High String Ensemble and Sean Na'auao and Friends.

Guests included U.S. Sens. Dan Inouye and Daniel Akaka, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the living past governors, Democrats George Ariyoshi, John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Republican Linda Lingle.

In the Senate, President Shan Tsutsui opened the session with a declaration that "better days are ahead."

"While our state continues to suffer from a sagging real estate market and high unemployment rates, we also see signs that we may be on the slow and arduous path to recovery," said Tsutsui (D, Wailuku-Kahului).

Without going into specifics, Tsutsui touched on a laundry list of priorities identified by the Senate, including plans to deal with years of deferred repair and maintenance of infrastructure, modernization of harbors and airports, enhancement of the University of Hawaii system, investment in renewable energy and a concentration on the growth and export of locally-grown agricultural products.

Tsutsui also urged a commitment to native Hawaiians, recognizing that eight of the Senate's 25 members are of Hawaiian heritage.

"Let us work with stakeholders and move forward on a ceded lands settlement to fulfill our responsibility to the native Hawaiian community," he said.

Calling on the example set by the plight of the 33 trapped Chilean miners, Tsutsui also called for teamwork from his colleagues to tackle all of those issues while also ensuring social services for those in need.

The chamber's sole Minority member, Sen. Sam Slom, embraced his role as "the Lone Ranger" of the Senate, donning a cowboy hat to open his remarks.

He identified the state budget as the key issue of 2011.

"Expenses can be cut back in the Legislature, and must be cut back, just as individuals, families and small business have been doing for years," said Slom (R, Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head). "The era of government free spending of other peoples' income is over, though some people in Hawaii's government remain in denial."

He called the current economic slowdown a chance to "right-size" government, shrinking it to "a size we can afford."

Despite previously announcing plans to do away with ecumenical invocations prior to floor sessions, the session opened with an invocation by Danny Kaleikini. The passage of chamber rules is scheduled for later.


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