Between the November election and the start of the new Legislature, Hawaii residents have been treated to what is becoming a biennial circus over selection of leadership of the state House. Democrat Rep. Calvin Say has struggled with "dissident" Democrats over the speaker’s gavel for years.
This spectacle is unseemly, and the wrong way to lead a democracy.
Nationally and in almost any other state in our country, the leadership of the legislature is determined by the voters, not insiders. Voters pick their representatives and, by implication, the caucus that holds majority control. In 2010, voters clearly understood that if the Democrats retained power in the U.S. House, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi would be the speaker. If the Republicans won a majority, Ohio Rep. John Boehner would become speaker. On election day the GOP captured a majority and Boehner is now speaker of the U.S. House.
In Hawaii, however, our one-party rule system upends voter control. Rather than having the people decide the leadership, as is done virtually everywhere else in the United States, the Hawaii House speaker’s gavel and the associated committee chairmanships are decided by insider deals cut behind closed doors amongst important "power brokers."
No one should be naive enough to think this wheeling-and-dealing is limited to the elected state representatives themselves, as key special-interest groups are heavily involved in selecting the speaker of the state House and the associated chairmanships of important committees.
This system of allowing a select few, the proverbial "old boy network" to select our Legislature’s leadership, with almost no public scrutiny, maximizes the power of special interests at the expense of the public’s general interest. This is not the way to run a democracy.
When I served in the state House, before my tenure in the City Council and in the U.S. Congress, I found Rep. Say generally reasonable — but I take no position on whether he should remain the speaker. I firmly object, however, to the insider manipulation and horse trading that occurs in Hawaii in selecting the leadership of the Legislature.
The people of Hawaii deserve better, but we will only get a better government when Hawaii achieves a real two-party democracy.