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Editorial | On Politics

Dissident group lining up to tackle House Speaker Say


Football fans know that in order to appreciate the game, follow those fellows on the line, because everything starts with those behemoths.

Run or pass, it all evolves with the big guys doing the heavy pushing and shoving.

If your game is politics, you have to follow legislative organization to appreciate the work product from the House and Senate.

The pushing and shoving are more disguised, but the fight is just as real.

This year the state Senate, always a treacherous place with various factions appearing and then disappearing, settled down early with Maui Democrat Shan Tsutsui as president.

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim was dropped as Ways and Means chairwoman, but reassumed her old job as Senate vice president, chairwoman of the Tourism Committee and tacked on the job she was already doing probing the state Transportation Department by making her head of a committee on investigations.

All this is important because committee chairpeople run the show; the bigger the committee, the bigger the show. Committee chairpeople are appointed, in part, by agreeing to support someone for Senate president or speaker of the House.

Over in the House nothing has gelled. Palolo Democrat Rep. Calvin Say is battling either one or two groups of Democrats who want to be included in House policy.

Say, one of the Legislature’s old-timers, started in 1976. Since then he has gone from the obscurity of running the Committee on Culture and Arts to chairing the Finance Committee, and has been speaker since 1999.

Along the way he has made enemies by repeatedly trying to cut the budget by trimming state benefits to public workers and refusing to consider raising the general excise tax to balance the budget.

Say has also been a practical politician, forming a political action committee, Citizens for Responsive Government, which raised a total of $262,000 during the last election cycle and doled out $116,000 to Democratic candidates.

Say has been speaker so long that a growing group of dissidents has formed to demand that they have a larger share in running the House. But the Rebel Alliance has not come up with a specific reason for a change except that the current system doesn’t include them.

So far there are 19 votes for someone besides Say as speaker, while Say holds 24 votes. A speaker needs at least 26 votes to win.

Rep. Roy Takumi, another legislative veteran, is being boosted by some in the anti-Say block.

Interestingly Takumi is an employee of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO. Although the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state’s largest public worker union, isn’t actively working to defeat Say, it might find an agreeable legislative climate with someone other than Say.

Just like in football, the winner may be the best blocker, not the best runner.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at


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