On the last day of the 2013 legislative session, Democrats in charge of the Hawaii House of Representatives took the rare step of adding four more members to leadership posts.

All four representatives have been supporters of Calvin Say, the speaker emeritus, and not Speaker Joe Souki.

Derek Kawakami and Ty Cullen were named assistant majority leaders, Henry Aquino was named policy leader and Ryan Yamane was named majority whip, the House’s fourth.

Is Souki consolidating his power?

And are Republicans, who formed a coalition with Souki supporters to get the necessary 26 votes to appoint him speaker, losing what little clout they have?

‘Part Of The Team’

When it comes to the Hawaii Legislature, the word “leader” can be misleading. Some positions are granted as rewards for shifting loyalties; some are largely ceremonial. It largely depends on what the top leaders want from their team.

In addition to Souki, the real power in the current House lies with Scott Saiki, the majority leader, and Sylvia Luke, the finance chairwoman. Saiki and Luke led the group of House dissidents who, after years of failed efforts, finally knocked Say from his perch in January.

Nathan Eagle/Honolulu Civil Beat

Rep. Scott Saiki talks to reporters after session.

Vice Speaker John Mizuno and Majority Floor Leader Karen Awana are former Say supporters who now back Souki. Same goes for Karl Rhoads, who was rewarded with the Judiciary Committee chair for switching sides.

Majority Whips Sharon Har and Ken Ito, however, remain Say loyalists. The other whip, Romy Cachola, cast his support with Souki when he was elected last year; having previously served in the House, he has long relations with both Say and Souki.

So, will the four new leaders have any real influence?

Saiki says “yes.”

“In our situation, these four representatives wanted to be more involved in the caucus,” said Saiki. “And it was good timing and a good opportunity, because our plan is to have the leadership and the chairs and the members work on an agenda for next year. There will be a lot of work going on through the interim, so it is good to have new leadership. … They will be part of the team.”

Saiki stressed that neither Kawakami, Cullen, Aquino or Yamane was asked to pledge loyalty to the Souki-Saiki-Luke bloc.

Nathan Eagle

Reps. Aaron Ling Johanson and Cynthia Thielen.

“That was not part of it,” he said. “I think what happened (Thursday) is consistent with what Speaker has said from the very beginning — that he wants to unify the caucus. And to do that you have to have the members be involved.”

Saiki said that the majority caucus would also keep its commitment to work with the minority caucus, which numbers just seven representatives out of 51. Veteran GOP leaders like Gene Ward and Cynthia Thielen were given vice chair positions this year as part of the deal.

“We gave our word, and we are not going back on it,” he said.

Aaron Ling Johanson, the minority leader, said his caucus remains a factor in the legislative process.

“They have been very good partners to work with,” he said of the Democrats. “I think everyone understands that seven isn’t 26 when it comes to dictating things. But as partners go, they have been very honorable and very open. That is something that exists now, a climate of openness and receptiveness to ideas, whether they come to fruition or not.”

$12,000 More Kala

House Clerk Brian Takeshita said each member gets a $10,200 legislative allowance for office supplies and the like. Each member also can hire an office manager, which pays $3,799 a month.

As leaders, Kawakami, Cullen, Aquino and Yamane will also have the opportunity to have an administrative services manager, which can be its own position or combined with the office manager job. Takeshita said, generally speaking, more than $12,000 a year is allocated for “ASM” duties.

Nathan Eagle

Sen. Jill Tokuda and Rep. Marcus Oshiro.

More importantly, the new leaders will have new responsibility and stature.

Marcus Oshiro, the Say loyalist who lost the Finance Committee chairmanship under January’s House re-organization, said he welcomed the new blood.

“The resolutions (passed Thursday) allow for immediate transfer of responsibility and assignments for the four as we go into interim,” he said. “It kicks in right away. I’m happy for them to be given this opportunity to serve in leadership posts, as I did in my sophomore year. I learned a lot. Each of them collectively bring some good insight to the process.”

All four are also young, in their 20s or 30s. (Souki turned 80 this year.)1 All are also men, in a body that increasingly features women in influential roles. Cindy Evans, the Water and Land chairwoman, led the charge to repeal the Public Land and Development Corporation.

There was one other significant change in positions Thursday. Having sat out the process this session, Oshiro and Say are now members of committees.

Ohsiro is part of the “human services bracket,” that is, the committees on health, housing and human services, and on Consumer Protection and Commerce. Say’s committee assignments include Water and Land.

Say could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Oshiro said he believed his colleagues would benefit from the institutional knowledge and experience that both former leaders will bring to their new posts.

“It will lead to better results and better and more informed policy,” he said.

Oshiro did not get one of the committees he wanted, however: Judiciary. And two sources who Civil Beat granted anonymity — because their relationships with colleagues could be impacted — said Say did not get one of his favored committees, either: Finance.

Finance and judiciary, the two most powerful places to be. Besides speaker and majority leader, of course.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author

Comments