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When folks at the big square building on Beretania tire of talking about bills, conversation turns to politics.
The speculation goes a little something like this:
Shan Tsutsui is bored being Hawaii’s lieutenant governor. The Maui resident has his restless eye on the post of Mayor Alan Arakawa, who completes his second and final term next year.
If Tsutsui runs for Maui mayor — and he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last month that he is considering it — the thinking goes he’ll resign to focus on the campaign. Word is he might make an announcement not long after the current legislative session wraps up next month.
By law, Senate President Ron Kouchi is first in line to assume Tsutsui’s gig, but he is said to not be interested.
House Speaker Joe Souki, however, is said to be interested in being lieutenant governor. He turns 84 this month and may have his eye on soon leaving public office.
The low-intensity LG gig could be Souki’s transition.
But his retirement would not happen until serving, say, a year as LG at a much higher pay level.
Tsutsui’s annual salary increases by about $3,000 on July 1 to $151,776. It then grows to $154,812 by July 1, 2018. Souki’s annual salary was $68,880 as of Jan. 1. It increases to $70,104 next January.
(The House speaker and the Senate president each receive $7,500 more per year than other senators and representatives.)
So Souki, who has been in the state House since Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, could continue to corral the sometimes unruly 51-member chamber. Or he could double his salary and do the virtual nothing (e.g., issuing orders granting legal name changes) that is required of Hawaii lieutenant governors.
Some have speculated that Souki could also increase his state pension under the so-called “high three” provision, because an employee’s retirement is based on the average salary during the three highest-paid years of employment.
There’s just one problem with this scenario: Souki is already drawing his pension.
“The speaker retired several years ago and is collecting benefits,” a spokesperson for Souki said. “He is therefore ineligible for ‘high three.'”
That isn’t to say that Souki might not still be interested in being LG. The speaker declined to address that part of the rumor.
If Souki does step down as speaker, Majority Leader Scott Saiki is best positioned to take the reins. Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke, who is close to Saiki, seems to want to stay in her powerful job.
There does not appear to be the votes for a reorganization of House leadership from the remnants of Speaker Emeritus Calvin Say’s coalition — Marcus Oshiro, Jimmy Tokioka, Sharon Har, etc.
But there are a lot of restless members, mostly newer and younger lawmakers whose allegiance could be in play. Some are calling them the “Young Lions,” the “Young Turks” or just “The Millennials,” and they seem less patient than their predecessors in waiting their turn for power.
That is, if they choose to even stay in the House.
Reps. Chris Lee and Kaniela Ing are among the names bandied about to challenge Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, whose shine has been dulled by all that business with Syria. (Here’s the latest, ICYMI.)
What about Gov. David Ige?
He probably won’t face a well-known challenger in 2018, at least as of this writing. For example, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa is expected to stay in D.C. (Sen. Mazie Hirono is not expected to draw a credible challenger in 2018, either.)
Assuming all those outstanding labor contracts are settled to union satisfaction this year, and the transfer of the Maui region hospitals from public to private control is completed smoothly, Ige should be OK for another four years.
But there is a big question as to who might run for lieutenant governor, since Souki would likely not do so even as the incumbent.
The names of state Sen. Josh Green, term-limited Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho and even Arakawa are heard in the political chat-o-sphere. Green has all but filed his papers, and he has a ton of cash in his campaign war chest.
Or, maybe none of this happens.
For the record, Saiki did not respond for comment. And Kouchi said, “At this point I am certainly not contemplating running for LG, so it’s highly unlikely.”
Kouchi added this important caveat, however: “In this business, you always say, ‘Never say never.'”
And for good reason.
There are always events unforeseen, such as untimely deaths or the emergence of unexpected candidates (hello, Billy Kenoi).
Such is the rumor mill at the state Capitol that there was even this whopper floating around: That Kouchi would be replaced as president by Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda, who would then take the LG job, and then Kouchi would be returned as president.
Or something like that.
Tokuda certainly seems ambitious, and some of her colleagues would not mind seeing a Senate shakeup. Some see Tokuda running for LG, in a field that is likely to be crowded.
But that’s another thing to keep in mind when considering political talk at the Capitol: It’s all talk until someone acts. And then the dominos begin to fall.
The ball is in your court, Shan Tsutsui.