Where does state Rep. Calvin Say actually live?
It’s a question that’s been debated for years, both informally among concerned citizens and formally before judges and county boards in Honolulu.
Now there’s a new effort underway — believed to be the first of its kind in Hawaii — to settle the matter.
A special six-member House committee, chaired by Rep. Karl Rhoads, held a quasi-judicial hearing Friday to consider whether Say lives in Palolo and has rightfully represented the House District 20 for the past three-plus decades or if the amount of time he has spent living at his in-laws’ Pauoa Valley home in District 25 constitutes grounds for expulsion or other consequence.
There was no decision after the nearly two-hour hearing in a conference room packed with lawmakers loyal to Say, family, friends, Democratic Party officials and a group supporting the six voters who brought the challenge to the House after the courts punted. That group includes Ramona Hussey, Kaimila Nicholson, Joel Merchant and others.
There’s little dispute that Say has been spending much of his time living on Star Road in Pauoa Valley ever since his wife and two sons moved there in 1995 to take care of her parents until they passed away.
Say has long maintained that he intends to take up full-time residence again in his 10th Avenue home in Palolo at some point and says he has spent time there on weekends taking care of the place.
The law is silent on how long someone can live elsewhere if that person says they intend to move back to their original residence. That’s the fundamental question before the special committee: how long do you let a lawmaker live in another district under that exception? Is it a matter of days? Weeks? Years? Indefinitely?
“It’s pretty clear that it’s a judgment call,” Rhoads said. “How long can intention be long enough to maintain a residence? At some point you just don’t live there.”
Say’s lawyer, Bert Kobayashi, told the committee that it doesn’t make logical sense to set a time period on one’s intentions.
“The law just asks for intention,” he said. “It does not specify a time period.”
Considering Say headed the House for 13 years until Joe Souki regained the speakership position in 2013, it’s not entirely surprising the Legislature has left the residency law unchanged since 1985. Not to mention the concerns over other lawmakers, including Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, not living in the district they represent.
The line of questioning from lawmakers and the mismatched legal representation — Say is represented by Kobayashi, Sugita and Goda, one of the best law firms in Hawaii — suggested the committee will not take any disciplinary action against Say.
Majority Leader Scott Saiki, one of the six committee members, asked Lance Collins, the lawyer representing the group of voters, why any evidence presented before Say’s most recent election win last November should even be considered.
Rhoads asked what information would be presented to the committee that was qualitatively different than what has been delivered in challenges before judges in recent years and the Honolulu Board of Registration in 2006.
This is the fourth formal residency challenge against Say, who prevailed in all the others.
Collins first asked the House to take up the issue in February 2013, but Souki said it was up to the courts. Judge Karen Nakasone ruled Sept. 30, 2014 that it was up to the House to take a first crack at it.
In January, Collins gave the committee over 100 pages supporting his case — roughly the same amount of material Kobayashi submitted Tuesday.
There’s testimony in Collins’ file from neighbors who say they never see anyone living in Say’s 10th Avenue home, utility bills showing virtually no water usage and a record of statements made by Souki and Say indicating he doesn’t live there. But nothing substantially different than what was presented in past challenges in other venues.
Kobayashi and Collins each had 20 minutes to present their case before the special committee. Neither used all of their time.
“How many terms of the Legislature does someone live somewhere else before they’re considered not to live there anymore?” — Lance Collins, attorney
Collins read his prepared remarks, quoting everything from case law to Gandhi. “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”
Kobayashi, with decades more experience, made his pitch cooly and comfortably, relying less on his notes.
Say sat next to Kobayashi and Maria Wang, another attorney from the firm. He wore a lei and didn’t say a word, receiving occasional nods or shoulder pats from longtime supporters, including Reps. Marcus Oshiro, Sharon Har and James Tokioka.
Rep. Cindy Evans, another member of the special committee, said Say always had an intention to return so she doesn’t see how anyone can argue that the Palolo home isn’t his legal residence.
Collins said the “intention” aspect of the law can render the physical presence requirement an “absurdity.”
“When does something go from being temporary to permanent?” Collins asked. “Is it one term of the Legislature? Is it two? Is it 10? Is it 20? How many terms of the Legislature does someone live somewhere else before they’re considered not to live there anymore?”
Another public hearing will be held in two weeks or so to consider a draft report that the committee will prepare with recommendations on what action the full House should take.
Until then, Rhoads said the committee — which also includes Reps. John Mizuno, Ken Ito and Beth Fukumoto Chang — will be reviewing the evidence and, of course, tending to their myriad responsibilities during a very busy time in session.
Read the filings from Collins here:
Read the filings from Kobayashi here: