For two and a half months, Calvin Say could not muster the required 26 votes to win another two-year term as speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives.
On Wednesday, he was elected unanimously by his 50 colleagues — 42 Democrats (including himself) and eight Republicans.
What on earth changed?
And what does this say about the 2011 Legislature?
Speaker Say was the winner on Wednesday, House dissidents the losers and House Republicans somewhere in the middle.
While precise details will not emerge until Thursday about what the 25 Democratic supporters of Say and the 17 who favored Sylvia Luke or Roy Takumi agreed upon, three of the four top leadership positions will not change from what they were last session: Say’s, Majority Leader Blake Oshiro‘s and Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro‘s.
Say did allow that two women would be elevated in House leadership — the vice speakership is vacant — but they will not include Luke, who once served as Say’s vice speaker.
And, Say says there was no “dealing or concessions” with the GOP.
As House members gathered outside the chamber after the voice vote in an afternoon session, Say had his arm around Luke’s waist. Both put a positive spin on the turn of events.
“We are now able to work together,” said Luke. “Everyone acted generously … We are moving forward on a workable solution. In the end I am very happy.”
“I’ve always been for the greater good of the Democratic Caucus,” said Say. “This is not all about Calvin Say.”
A Divided Caucus?
Actually, in many ways it was very much about Calvin Say.
About an hour after the vote, the House issued a press release that noted, “The upcoming 2011 session will be his 13th year as Speaker. He was first elected to the House in 1976.”
The actual vote for speaker was also delayed from the grand opening ceremonies that morning, though many people packed the House gallery to see exactly that. Over in the Senate, by contrast, Shan Tsutsui was smoothly crowned president.
Say himself noted the parallel with the last big struggle over House leadership 40 years ago. Speaker Tadao Beppu, Say pointed out, was a Democrat who represented Palolo just as Say does today; then as now, Republicans were involved.
And, for all the exclamations of unity, it’s revealing that immediately after the vote the bloc of 25 went behind closed doors while the 17 dissidents were left on the House floor to cope and comfort one another. The eight Republicans scattered.
(There are 51 House representatives; one seat was vacant until after Wednesday’s vote, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Georgette “Jo” Jordan to fill the District 45 seat.)
And then there was Say’s reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. One of the greatest speeches in history, it was delivered — on March 4, 1865 — just as the Union was set to prevail over the South.
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” said Lincoln.
Like the 16th president, Say wanted to “bind up the wounds” and begin the healing of a people torn by civil war.
“We are all here to serve the Lord and the state of Hawaii,” he said in closing.
What I say next should not be misconstrued — especially in this time of heightened politic rhetoric and social violence — but it’s ironic to recall that John Wilkes Booth was in the audience for Lincoln’s address.
States of Stress and Grace
It’s been a tough two and a half months.
Say said his wife could not sleep after reading news reports of the battle over speaker. The speaker said he hoped that he would not have to revisit the process in 2012.
The GOP’s stature under Minority Leader Gene Ward and Minority Floor Leader Kymberly Pine has gone up a few notches.
And the dissidents?
Some are disgusted, but many hold their heads high for holding their ground and obtaining some compromise. Keep in mind they could have refused to do so, forcing Say to rely on the GOP votes — something U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye warned would be “disgraceful.”
Which leads to the last point:
As the Senate quickly organized, a new governor put his team together and the congressional delegation was once again controlled by Democrats, the House leadership struggle went all the way to opening day.
Cracks showed. Dirty laundry flapped in the breeze. And Calvin Say remains speaker of a house divided against itself.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” you will recall, also comes from Lincoln. It was delivered just three years before the shots were fired at Fort Sumter.
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