This isn’t the first time setting up a leadership team in the state House of Representatives has become a tug-of-war. Some measure of political pushing and pulling comes with the territory, of course, but after weeks and weeks of this, public patience is wearing thin.
The Legislature is now only days away from convening, and the questions of who will be speaker of the House and who will lead the chamber’s key committees, are still unanswered. Some preparation work can be done independently of leadership wrangling, but perpetuating this unsettled state for much longer surely will handicap lawmakers who, after all, are facing a challenging public-policy landscape.
They will have to navigate the many decisions that will be necessary to close a nearly $800 million budgetary gap for the two years following the session. They have to decide how the next Board of Education will be appointed. There are languishing issues such as the civil unions debate that they should confront.
It’s hard to get ready for all this when, as Republican state Rep. Gene Ward points out, some freshman legislators don’t even have permanent offices yet.
Ward — who represents the 17th District, encompassing Kalama Valley, Queen’s Gate and Hawaii Kai — is the House minority leader. On Friday he presented a GOP proposal to back state Rep. Calvin Say’s bid to continue as speaker, a seat Say has occupied for 11 years.
Say reportedly has 25 votes from the Democratic caucus, only one vote shy of the majority. That’s a sizable lead over his nearest rival, state Rep. Roy Takumi, but the dissident group that wants a changing of the guard has held together for weeks.
Negotiations are continuing to forge a Democrats-only majority group of backers, but the advantages of doing so are becoming less and less clear. Rather than prolonging these talks, however, Say would serve the broader community best by relying on the Republican House caucus for the support he needs.
In other words: Enough with the power struggle, already.
The state Capitol has never been a bastion of bipartisanship and could benefit from a scheme that gives the GOP more influence — bringing more Republican bills up for a hearing as a matter of course, for instance.
That said, Ward insisted that the decision was made simply to get on with the workload ahead, adding that he hasn’t exacted any promises from Say in exchange for Republican support.
Lawmakers, like the Abercrombie administration, are a long way from assembling a plan for resolving the state’s revenue shortfall. But Say’s record as a fiscal moderate with a distaste for general excise tax increases strongly indicates that the GOP caucus would align better with him, Ward said.
And, he added, the chance to have at least some role to play is welcome.
"We’ve become relevant, reinserting rational thinking into the leadership process," he said.
That could be at least a small breakthrough in what has been virtually a one-party political structure. But even if a more collaborative era is not at hand, the GOP is offering a chance to get on with the people’s work, and the calendar on the wall suggests that it’s time to seize it.