Sure, you get a big office with a good view in the Capitol, and there’s a choice parking spot.
You get invited to a whole bunch of functions, and you usually have the best seat in the joint.
You don’t have to attend any committee meetings.
And staff at the Pacific Club greet you with respect.
But, what’s so special about being Speaker of the House — so special that 43 Democrats have been fighting for two months now to decide whether Calvin Say will keep the same job he’s had for the past 11 years, a record for Hawaii speakers.
It’s simple: There is no comparable position of power in the chamber. The closest comparison is the Senate president.
According to the Rules of the House of Representatives, as crafted for the 2009-2010 sessions — the same rules that still apply until the House votes on new ones — the speaker has no less than 17 specific duties, some of them rather elaborate (more on that later).
Compare that with the vice speaker, who has only one delineated task — “consult with and advise the standing committees and assist them in their work as an ex officio member without vote and shall perform such other duties as may be assigned by the Speaker; provided that the Vice Speaker shall serve as a voting member of the Committee on Legislative Management.”
If the speaker is not around, of course, the vice speaker fills in.
The speaker emeritus, meantime, only has one charge, too — they “may” perform functions and duties assigned by the speaker.
Majority leaders, floor leaders, whips and assistant leaders and whips also have narrowly defined duties under House rules.
By contrast, the House clerk and sergeant-at-arms have many defined duties and are thus very influential, even though they are not elected officials. And several committee chairs wield tremendous influence, including deciding whether a bill will even get a hearing.
But the speaker’s duties are immense — even though the job is technically part time.
For one, the speaker has a say in the appointment of all those who serve under him. If a lawmaker is on the “outs” with a speaker, that lawmaker will have virtually no ability to push legislation.
If a speaker doesn’t like a bill, he can pretty much make sure it never sees the light of day.
If a speaker wants to reward a lawmaker or supporter, through legislation or appropriation, he can pretty much make it happen.
If the governor or Senate president wants to cut a deal to get something passed, he or she needs the speaker to get it done.
The speaker also has a say in who recommends candidates for boards and commissions.
The job pays the standard $46,272 salary of a representative, plus $7,126 for the title. But the salary isn’t indicative of the position’s reach.
The speaker, according to House rules, does the following:
• opens meetings of the House;
• maintains order in the chamber;
• announces the business before the House;
• receives all matters and communication brought before the House (e.g., Senate bills, governor’s messages) and calls for and announces votes;
• consults with and advises House committees and assists them as an ex officio (albeit without a vote);
• assigns each House member a seat on the House floor;
• signs all House acts;
• issues warrants to arrests offenders in the House;
• can clear the House of any offenders;
• can issue subpoenas when “requiring the attendance of witnesses or the production of books, documents, or other evidence in any matter pending before the House or any committee”;
• can appoint any member to preside over the House if other leaders are not available;
• can, within four session days, refer all bills to committees;
• review all appeals of bill referrals;
• appoint the chairs and members of conference committees; and
• establish final dates on legislation.
In short, without a speaker (or someone at least selected to act in their place) the business of the House — and ultimately the Legislature, governor and state of Hawaii — just can’t happen.
There’s more — indeed, the word speaker appears well over 100 times in the 53 pages (not including appendices) of the House Rules — but you get the idea.
No wonder Calvin Say wants to keep his job.
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