After five weeks of what they describe as an “impasse” over who should lead the state House of Representatives, 18 Democrats who want a leadership change are asking Calvin Say to give up his battle to stay speaker.
“Hawaii has entered a new era,” they write in a letter dated Dec. 6. “The House of Representatives must be open to change.”
The letter, signed by 15 Representatives who support Sylvia Luke for speaker (including Luke) and three who support Roy Takumi (including Takumi), was delivered to Say on the same day as Neil Abercrombie‘s inauguration.
They thank Say for his 34 years of service and note that he is the state’s longest serving speaker (11 years).
But they also argue that pressing House business such as planning a package of bills from the Democratic caucus are on hold until the speakership question is settled.
“Improving public schools, reforming government, protecting our environment, and safeguarding civil rights are important to Hawaii’s future, yet many of these initiatives have been stalled or derailed,” they write.
The letter is a harsh indictment on Say’s leadership. It states that “pet projects and positions” that benefit only a few are often traded “without regard to a larger policy agenda.”
“The House requires strong leadership that will be bold, will craft a democratic agenda, and will embrace open and inclusive decision-making,” the representatives write. “The House requires leadership that will restore public confidence in how we make decisions.”
Say has managed to secure 25 of the necessary 26 votes to become speaker. The Dec. 6 letter makes evident what many in the Legislature have been saying for weeks — that the 18 legislators who oppose him were not likely to budge.
If there is no agreement on the speakership by opening day of the Legislature on Jan. 19, a floor vote on the matter is likely. One scenario has Say calling on the support of the House’s eight Republicans — something that would likely make some of his Democratic supporters abandon him for a compromise candidate.
In addition to Takumi, the names of Marcus Oshiro and Blake Oshiro have been mentioned. Along with the 18 members who want a new speaker, eight members would have to leave Say’s bloc and agree to a compromise candidate.
House spokeswoman Georgette Deemer confirmed that Say has received the letter, but said he had no response to it.
On Monday, when Abercrombie held his first press conference as governor in executive chambers, Say was seated in the front row of chairs next to new Senate President Shan Tsutsui.
Abercrombie, who has an ambitious legislative agenda, must work closely with lawmakers to get it implemented. But the agenda cannot move forward until House leadership is decided and committee chairs are selected.
Say has survived leadership challenges before, including ones led by Luke, a former vice speaker who was demoted after she failed to unseat him, and Reps. Scott Saiki and Mark Takai.
But the near-wholesale change in leadership at county, state and federal levels in Hawaii this year has emboldened those who want change in the House.
“We respectfully request that you work with us to find a leadership compromise that will unify and rebuild our House,” the 18 dissidents write. “Only by working together can we move Hawaii forward and give everyone a better future.”
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