Welcome to Capitol Watch. There’s a new governor, new leadership at the Legislature and other government branches, and Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.
Chris Lee, one of the 17 House dissidents, issued a press release late this afternoon that says Gene Ward, Lenny Klompus and other Republicans are mischaracterizing the effect the reorganization of House Democrats is having on legislative business.
Lee quotes Ward telling Hawaii News Now that the House is close to a “shutdown” and that House dissidents have boycotted some finance hearings.
In fact, Lee says budget hearings have been held and “work is proceeding.”
“We have been working to find a leadership compromise that will bring everyone together, and unite the Democrats in the House,” said Lee.
“Gene Ward and Lenny Klompus are spinning this into boycotts? There are absolutely no boycotts of anything. We have all been working hard to prepare for the upcoming legislative session. Gene sits right by me in budget hearings. I see him every day,” said Denny Coffman, another dissident.
Gene Ward today said in a press release that, because the eight Republicans have cast their support behind Calvin Say for House speaker, Democrats should “act in the best interest of the people of Hawaii and organize expeditiously so the House can get back to the business voters elected their representatives to do.”
Ward and other Republicans argue that, with opening day just 10 days away, “time is running out for legislators, lobbyists, advocates and the general public who are still unable to prepare for the upcoming session.” Without an organized House there are “no committees, no chairs, no members.”
The GOP statement comes as Say and his bloc of 25 are expected to meet and discuss this afternoon a settlement offer from the 17 House dissidents, and to consider whether they even want Republicans involved. The negotiations center on how leadership posts and chairmanships could be divvied up between the two groups.
But, the suspicion that Say actively solicited the GOP’s support has upset many Democrats. Meanwhile, many of Say’s supporters will not accept Sylvia Luke or Roy Takumi as speaker, while many dissidents don’t want Say. Could Blake Oshiro or Marcus Oshiro — both currently in the Say camp — emerge as a compromise candidate?
Testifying before the Senate Ways and Means committee today, interim director Kealii Lopez was asked by Suzanne Chun Oakland whether other government departments might be able to follow the lead of DCCA, which sustains itself on used fees.
Lopez said she thought it “would make a lot of sense. The few short weeks that I have been here, the staff very much understands how helpful it is to be self-sufficnent — and members of the public find it helpful, too.”
Like all state departments, furloughs and cutbacks have hampered services.
Lopez and her team also fielded questions from senators on the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund, from which the state is now using $67 million to restore 17 instructional days for public school students. DCCA told lawmakers the state’s ability to repay insurance companies would only be impacted in the event of an Iniki-level storm hitting Oahu.
(By the way, Lopez, formerly president and CEO of Olelo Community Media, gave $150 to Neil Abercrombie‘s campaign for governor.)
I stopped counting, but Donna Mercado Kim lobbed dozens and dozens of questions at the state Department of Transportation today as it submitted its budget request to Senate Ways and Means.
For one, she wanted to know whether the new DOT director and deputy directors had read the action management plan prepared by the prior administration. Told that they had not, Kim replied, “Why not? I would think it would be No. 1 on your list knowing that your were coming to meet with us today.”
Kim also expressed incredulity that the walkway in the Honolulu International Airport’s new Mauka Concourse would leak from rainwater. She was told that the rainfall over the holidays set a record, and, anyway, the contractor repaired the leaks at no cost to the state.
And so it went, as Kim and other state senators asked for information about an embezzlement investigation involving a former airport employee, why neighbor island airports had to get permission from Honolulu for the leasing of adjacent lands, whether the department would restore commercial airlift to Hana, Kalaupapa and Kamuela; and when the airport would get around to upgrading facilities like bathrooms, given that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November will bring lots of folks to Honolulu.
DOT — Glenn Okimoto, Ford Fuchigami, Jan Gouveia and others — had many answers, and when it did not it said it promised to get them.
Ways and Means Chairman David Ige did credit the department — which covers state airports, highways and harbors — for submitting more than 50 pages in testimony. “You set the record,” he said.
Kauai County officials have canceled the county’s first furlough day of 2011, which would have been this Friday.
Mayor Bernard Cravalho Jr. has also sent a money bill to the Kauai County Council that would “completely eliminate furloughs and salary reductions for the remainder of fiscal year 2011,” according to a county press release.
The mayor says cost-saving and revenue-enhancement measures have helped the county become more financially stable.
The Council is expected to take a final vote on the furloughs bill Jan. 26.
Neil Abercrombie today ordered that all Hawaii flags at all state offices and agencies as well as the Hawaii National Guard are to be flown at half-staff alongside U.S. flags until sunset, Jan. 14.
The order follows President Obama’s earlier order that all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz.
West Hawaii Today reports that Big Island Democrats have submitted the names of businessman Russell Ruderman, computer expert Anthony Marzi and veteran campaign organizer Gilbert Kahele to the governor for his consideration of who shall be the next 2nd District member of the Senate.
Former Sen. Russell Kokubun was himself appointed to the Hilo-Puna-Kau seat in 2000 and held it until Dec. 28. He is now interim director of the state Department of Agriculture.
Lance Holter, chairman of the Maui Democratic Party, wants House Democrats to reject accepting House Republican support to break the two-month stalemate over speaker.
“Democrats should resolve their differences within the party. This means
sharing power and sometimes finding compromise on ideological principles,” Holter said over the weekend. “This does not mean forging an alliance with Republicans Legislators, half of whom are Tea Partiers.”
Other Democrats are also upset at the appearance that Say solicited GOP support. This is a party, after all, that ejected one of its own during the last election for endorsing GOP candidates.
Meanwhile, Say’s supporters made little progress in negotiations with 17 House dissidents over the weekend. The two sides cannot agree on a compromise that involves not only deciding who will be speaker but who will hold leadership positions and chairmanships.
Say’s group of 25 plans to meet behind closed doors at 4:30 today, where he may find out whether his supporters will accept the GOP’s eight votes and give him as many as 33 votes (he needs only 26) to stay speaker.
President Obama has ordered that the flag of the U.S. be flown at half-staff until sunset on Jan. 14 “as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on Saturday” in Arizona.
The order applies to the White House “and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions … at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.”
A moment of silence will also be observed at 11 a.m. EST today (6 a.m. HST).
Duke Aiona can’t resist wading into the House battle over speaker. On Saturday, he tweeted his thoughts on a quote from Scott Saiki, a House dissident, that was published in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser that same day.
Aiona, using the TweetLonger format, said, “Quote of the year (to date)! Scott saiki “it will be difficult to govern with a bipartisan organization”. So who does scott saiki represent the people or only democrat. It should be noted that this position is not limited to scott saiki. And we wonder why there are haves and haves not with state government.”
Some Council members say the current rules work just fine but may need to be followed more strictly.
Among the rules frequently violated, it appears, are Council members exceeding time limits for speaking and others interrupting them as they speak.
“I’m hoping that we can bring that back, the decorum and the professionalism that this office and these chambers deserve,” said Councilman Mel Rapozo, who favors sticking with existing rules.
The Senate Ways and Means committee will convene beginning at 9 p.m. in Conference Room 211.
Lawmakers will hear budget requests from the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and the Department of Transportation.
UPDATE 9:10 a.m. The House Finance committee will hold a budget hearing at 1:30 p.m. in Conference Room 308 to hear from Budget and Finance and Taxation.
Catch up on our previous coverage: