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Even with the general election still eight weeks away, maneuvering for top positions and chairmanships in the Hawaii state Senate is already under way.
Things are more stable in the state House of Representatives, though the unexpected could happen.
It’s always possible, for example, that Republicans could add to their numbers in the House and influence the alignment of Democrats. And some representatives are looking ahead to possible leadership changes in 2016.
Let’s start with the Senate.
The two most important committees in the Senate will see their chairmen depart.
David Ige of Ways and Means is the surprise Democratic nominee for governor, while Clayton Hee of Judiciary and Labor lost his race to be the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. Their terms end this year, and since you can’t run for more than one office at a time, neither will return to the Senate.
Here’s what we’ve learned from legislative sources:
Donna Mercado Kim wants to keep the presidency after losing her Democratic primary race for the U.S. Congress. Kim’s Senate term does not end this year.
The trick in the Senate is to get 13 of the 25 members to support a leadership bid. (Sam Slom is the lone Republican senator.)
Kim, Civil Beat is told, has the support of Will Espero, who may be angling for vice president or majority leader. Espero also unsuccessfully ran for Congress, but his current term is not up, either.
The two most important committees in the Senate will see their chairmen depart this year.
The current vice president, Ron Kouchi, was part of a group that recently put a leadership slate forward but didn’t have the numbers to make it stick. Those siding with Kouchi were Michelle Kidani, the current Ways and Means vice chairwoman, and Donovan Dela Cruz; both are said to be seeking promotions to more influential positions.
Believed to be on the Kim-Espero side are Jill Tokuda, who may wish to move from Education to Ways and Means, and Gil Keith-Agaran, who may want to take over Judiciary-Labor.
Nothing is settled, and should Ige become governor he could always take one or perhaps several fellow senators along with him to serve in his administration.
What is certain is that there will be at least three new senators after Nov. 4: Breene Harimoto, who will succeed Ige; Lorraine Inouye, a former senator who defeated incumbent Malama Solomon; and either Democrat Gil Riviere, a Republican-turned-Democrat, or Richard Fale, a GOP representative, who are running for Hee’s seat.
Eight Democratic senators and Inouye must still win their general election contests. But, while several incumbents face spirited Republican and Libertarian opponents, party affiliation, name recognition, record of legislative accomplishments and campaign money make the incumbents the favorites.
To give just one example: Libertarian Michael Last is seeking to unseat Democrat Josh Green on the Big Island. But Last has reported raising no campaign funds to the state Campaign Spending Commission while Green has banked $486,000 — more than any other state legislator.
Now on to the House.
Joe Souki has indicated to some that he would step down as House speaker in 2016, meaning that he wants one more two-year term in the top post. He may even have the 26 votes in the 51-member House so that he does not need to form a coalition with minority Republicans.
Democrats Rida Cabanilla and Faye Hanohano — two legislators who have often made headlines for controversial actions — are not coming back next year, having lost in the primary. Including their replacements, at least five new representatives will be elected this year.
Fale is leaving the House to run for the Senate. The other two openings are because Jessica Wooley resigned in May to run the state’s Office of Environmental Quality Control — Democrat George Okuda was appointed to keep the seat warm while four candidates vie for the seat this fall — and Mark Takai is the Democratic nominee for the 1st Congressional District.
There will be at least five new House representatives elected this year.
A three-way contest to replace Cabanilla in Ewa Beach is one to watch with Democrat Matt LoPresti, Republican Bryan Jeremiah and Libertarian Tom Berg facing off. LoPresti is backed by the influential Sierra Club, Berg is an outspoken former Honolulu City Councilman and Jeremiah is reported to have a criminal background and to have turned his life around. He is now an associate pastor at a local church.
Six Republican incumbents, all on Oahu, hope to return to office, but at least two races could be close: Lauren Cheape Matsumoto faces former Democratic legislator Mike Magaoay while Beth Fukumoto Chang has a rematch against Democrat Marilyn Lee, also a former rep.
A number of other Republicans, several Libertarians and two Green Party contenders are gunning to take down Democrats. They include Republican Julia Allen and Green Keiko Bonk, who would like to retire Calvin Say, the former House speaker who has a court hearing later this month regarding a challenge to his district residency.
As with the Senate, an Ige victory could draw Democratic representatives into the new administration. A victory by Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona could do the same in his own party.
Meanwhile, assuming Souki doesn’t step down earlier, the very early frontrunners for speaker in 2016 are Majority Leader Scott Saiki and Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke, who are allies.
Supporters of Say, including Marcus Oshiro and Sharon Har, may want to see someone else as speaker, though. Oshiro and Har were among the most outspoken Democrats opposing same-sex marriage during the special session last fall, and the lengthy, heated hearings and floor sessions made clear the divisions within the majority party.
Same-sex marriage — who voted for or against it — appears to be a factor in several House races, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie claims it’s what doomed his re-election chances. Expect some campaign mailers in key House districts to highlight voting records and positions.