Danny De Gracia: Democrats Should Invite Republicans Into Legislative Leadership Next Session - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Last week, I explained that no matter who wins or loses this year’s election, we should all work together for the good of Hawaii. Our incoming Legislature can be a big part of making Hawaii a more collaborative and cooperative place in the upcoming session by recognizing that the people of Hawaii want a more bipartisan process.

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For starters, we need to acknowledge the fact that here on Oahu, Hawaii Republican candidates outperformed all expectations. Part of this has to do with politically wounded Democrats being on the ballot and some of it is due to more Republican voters being redistricted together, but we should not minimize the fact that a redshift indeed took place here in Hawaii.

Example: I live in House District 39, and the last time Royal Kunia was represented by a Republican was 16 years ago when it was previously District 40. Since then, two Democrats, first Rep. Sharon Har then Rep. Ty Cullen, have had an incumbent lock on this area.

It was almost expected that Democratic candidate Corey Rosenlee would have been a shoo-in for HD 39, but much to everyone’s surprise, Republican Elijah Pierick trounced him in the general election.

That’s just too bad, because I would have loved to have a discussion with Rosenlee about education since he’d clearly have made a great education committee chair once in office, but I guess I’ll just have to talk to the Republicans instead.

And that raises an interesting possibility. Why can’t Republicans hold committee leadership positions? They’ve clearly earned it, and we could use a little more cooperation in the chamber.

The Democrats already have a supermajority; they will always use the judiciary, consumer protection, health and finance committees to keep Hawaii’s future direction in line. So why not show a little grace and allow Republicans to chair or vice-chair a few committees?

A decade ago, then-Rep. Joe Souki used Republicans to oust Rep. Calvin Say from the position of Speaker of the House, and later briefly rewarded the GOP with vice chair positions. This demonstrates that the precedent for bipartisan sharing of power exists, and denying Republicans any kind of committee leadership when Democrats are already controlling everything else in Hawaii just seems unnecessarily punitive.

Hawaii Republican Party chair Lynn Finnegan presided over some GOP gains in key legislative seats this year. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

My recommendation is this: At the minimum, make every single Republican in the House a vice chair of a standing committee.

This will accomplish two things. First, it will allow Republicans to be a part of the actual legislative process, and not just sidelined to be perpetual activists or campaigners waiting for reelection. Republicans need to get experience working alongside Democrats because it will make them better legislators with details-oriented thinking.

Second, having Republicans in committee leadership will moderate the process. Republicans need to have a say because the minority, however small, still represents a constituency that needs to be protected and respected.

As a former chair’s committee clerk, I can tell you right now that the Democrats would lose nothing by making Republicans their vice chairs. Traditionally, the vice chair serves in an ancillary capacity to the chair, doing routine things like preparing testimony packets or helping the chair’s staff whenever needed.

They usually get, as a concession, to preside over hearing non-substantive resolutions later in session, where they can get experience acting as chair. It’s a feel-good appointment, basically, but it does develop legislative acumen.

Alternatively, Republicans could even be allowed to chair committees where their perspective might add to a better diversity of thought. For example, Republicans seem to be very interested in issues of procurement policy and ethics, so maybe the House Government Reform Committee might be a good place for one of them.

There’s also the House Culture, Arts and International Affairs Committee. You can’t possibly tell me that we can’t afford to let a Republican have a shot at chairing that standing committee for experience, since there is no way someone can blow up policy on such a broad subject matter.

The point to be made here is that there is room for the Democrats to be inclusive and to show aloha by sharing even token legislative power with their Republican colleagues.

When I was working at the Capitol, Democratic representatives used to get upset if bills circulated for sponsor or co-sponsor signatures had “too many Republican signatures on them” and used to religiously make it a point to defer or pigeonhole all minority bills, even if they agreed with the subject matter. That’s petty, and there’s no reason for a Democratic supermajority to act that way.

We have an opportunity in the upcoming legislature to put aside petty suspicions and to be a more inclusive, bipartisan place for representing the people of this great State of Hawaii.

So what do you have to lose, Democrats? Show the people of Hawaii that democracy is idealized not just by the beautiful words we speak on opening day, but by the courageous cooperation and collaboration that we can show by sharing power.


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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Latest Comments (0)

Danny de Gracia has to learn to differentiate dreams from reality.

sleepingdog · 3 weeks ago

"Why can’t Republicans hold committee leadership positions? They’ve clearly earned it, and we could use a little more cooperation in the chamber."A1: because they aren't part of the majority, duh.A2: they clearly HAVE NOT earned it. Only being able to beat drunk drivers at the polls does not make them much of a party.The problem with Hawaii politics is that the Democratic party is captive to special interests and doesn't often represent the will of the voters, and that voters don't seem to care. It is not that the party of the Trump insurrection doesn't have enough power.

TannedTom · 3 weeks ago

"To the Winners, Goes the Spoils."In this 2-Party "Political System" we have, You defeat the purpose of having an All Democratic Majority Representation If they are Not Represented In Leadership Committees that control the narrative, agenda and advance the Democratic Ideology."Politics 101, Win at the Ballot Box 1st."

PSpects · 3 weeks ago

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