One of the longest-serving representatives in state history has responded to a residency challenge that could cost him his seat in the state House.
Speaker Emeritus Calvin Say said in an interview with The Associated Press, ahead of a precedent-setting special committee hearing Friday, that he has done his best to balance the needs of his family with his district.
"What I have gone through is just trying to be an appropriate, proper husband and father, and businessman and legislator," the 63-year-old Palolo Valley Democrat said. "This odyssey and this journey has really hurt my family."
Different groups have challenged Say’s residency over the last decade, saying he doesn’t live in the district he represents.
But this marks the first time such questions have come before a House committee. It’s also the first time in state history that a special legislative panel has come together to determine whether a state representative was qualified to hold office.
"This is the first time anybody’s ever challenged it this way," Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the special committee, said. "It’s just new territory."
Say and his opponents will each present their case to the committee, which will then decide whether to send it to the full House. No decision was expected Friday.
The challengers, a group of voters led by attorney Lance Collins, have said they can show he doesn’t live in the district and that it’s important to make sure elected officials follow the law.
Speaking to the AP, Say described his 14-year tenure as House speaker as filled with long hours, a reality that led him to do what he could to make things easier for his wife and two sons.
He said he lives in Palolo Valley, where he was born and owns a home, but he described spending significant amounts of time living in his in-laws’ home in Nuuanu, which is outside his district.
"It’s not an 8-to-4 job," he said. "And what was very successful for me was the fact that when you stick around the Capitol, you begin to have the relationships."
Say has represented the district that includes Palolo Valley, Kaimuki and Diamondhead for 38 years; he is currently the longest-serving lawmaker in the Hawaii Legislature.
Aside from serving at the Legislature, Say is president of Kotake Shokai Ltd., a wholesale business that imports goods from various parts of Asia.
While he was speaker and chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, Say often worked until close to midnight, he said. While the Legislature was in session, it was his routine during the week to stay at his in-laws’ house, which is closer to the Capitol than his home in Palolo, he said.
"And at some point in time, I can’t recall, maybe when I was Finance chair, I just told (my wife), why don’t you just stay over?" Say said. "It’s easier for you as my wife, rather than having dinner, then going home — and I’m not home until 12, 1:00 — it doesn’t make sense, right?"
Say compared the situation to representatives from neighbor islands who live in Honolulu during the week and fly home on weekends.
"It’s right up the street, five minutes," Say said of his in-laws’ home. "Then I get up at 5, and the routine is that I go to work at Kotake, then come (to the Legislature) by 8:30, 9:00. On the weekends, I do go on home, do my chores, do my work, etcetera, say hi to the neighbors, do my exercise, and you know that’s been my routine."
Palolo Valley isn’t much farther from the Capitol than Nuuanu; it’s about a 15-minute drive from the Capitol without traffic. But morning traffic makes the commute much longer, he said.
Say said the residency challenge is a politically motivated attack, brought by those who disagree with his policy decisions or want to run for his seat.
The special committee could dismiss the case or recommend disciplinary action to be voted on by the full House. A suspension or expulsion would require support from two-thirds of the chamber, according to the Hawaii Constitution.
If Say’s seat was vacant, Gov. David Ige would have 60 days to appoint a replacement, according to state law.
Rhoads, the special committee chairman, said he’s "keeping an open mind about what would be compelling evidence."