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Senate picks new leader


For the first time in more than three decades, a neighbor island lawmaker will lead majority Democrats in the Senate.

After meeting late into the night Thursday, Maui Sen. Shan Tsutsui emerged from the reorganization talks as the new Senate president. Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who was chairwoman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee the last two years, will be vice president.

"I think there were, obviously, a number of different proposals that were being floated — a number of different slates people were looking at," Tsutsui (D, Wailuku-Kahului) said yesterday. "The proposal with me as the president and some of the other committee assignments and leadership positions, in the end, was the one that a majority of the members felt comfortable with."

Tsutsui, who was vice chairman of Ways and Means the last two years, succeeds Colleen Hanabusa, who was elected to the U.S. House. He is the first non-Oahu lawmaker to lead the majority caucus since John Ushijima of Hilo led the Senate from 1974 to 1978.

"I think, obviously, I want to be as inclusive as possible," said Tsutsui, 39. "I think what we want to do is be open and be able to represent the will of the people and the voice of the people out there."

Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie said he looked forward to working with leadership teams in the Senate and House.

"The organization of the Senate and the House is an internal matter," Abercrombie said in a statement. "I intend to fully cooperate with the members and the leadership as it emerges, and I look forward to it."

Democrats who also hold the majority in the House have yet to formally caucus to discuss leadership. Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo Valley) has held the post since 1999.


New committee chairmanships in the state Senate:

» Ways and Means: David Ige
» Judiciary and Labor: Clayton Hee
» Commerce and Consumer Protection: Rosalyn Baker
» Agriculture and Housing: Donovan Dela Cruz
» Committee of Investigative Affairs; Tourism: Donna Mercado Kim
» Economic Development and Technology: Carol Fukunaga
» Education: Jill Tokuda
» Energy and Environment: Mike Gabbard
» Hawaiian Affairs: Brickwood Galuteria
» Health: Josh Green
» Human Services: Suzanne Chun Oakland
» Public Safety and Military Affairs: Will Espero
» Transportation and International Affairs: J. Kalani English
» Water and Land: Russell Kokubun


Democrats control the Senate with a 24-1 majority, but the behind-the-scenes debate focused on how to split the presidency and the Ways and Means Committee chairmanship between competing factions of Democrats. Either group had to line up 13 members — a majority in the 25-member chamber — or team up with another to gain control of the Senate.

Brickwood Galuteria was chosen majority leader with Les Ihara as majority floor leader. The caucus leader will be Ron Kouchi; whips will be Suzanne Chun Oakland and Will Espero.

The Ways and Means Committee, which oversees financial legislation, will be led by David Ige as chairman and Michelle Kidani as vice chairwoman. Clayton Hee will head the Committee on Judiciary and Labor.

The Senate’s lone Republican said he was "pleasantly surprised" at Tsutsui’s emergence as president.

"I think it’s a very good move," said Sen. Sam Slom. "I think he’s very bright, he’s an able leader … and I think it’s important to have a neighbor island president, so I’m very positive about it.

"I think in many ways we’re too Oahu-centric in focus, and I think he will bring more balance."


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