UPDATED 3/18/2011 2:45 p.m.

When Calvin Say was re-elected Hawaii House speaker Jan. 19 on a unanimous voice vote, ending a two-month standoff, many of the 17 who had sought new leadership still felt they had accomplished something.

Although not all the dissidents were pleased with the new power-sharing agreement — some were downright disgusted at how things turned out — most entered the new session with a sense of optimism about having greater influence and collaboration.

Now, as lawmakers are a week into the second half of the 2011 Legislature, a Civil Beat investigation has found that dissidents have had much less success in passing legislation than their counterparts who supported the speaker all along.

And the lawmaker who spearheaded the revolt, Rep. Sylvia Luke, fared the worst of all dissidents. She was at the bottom of the heap, tied with a freshman Democrat and six Republicans, with no bills making it through the House.

Luke, a former vice speaker, did not return phone calls.

Say told Civil Beat there was no punishment of House dissidents and that there were no lingering bad feelings from the struggle over leadership.

According to research done by Civil Beat, more than 23 percent1 of bills authored by Say and his supporters (not including bills introduced “by request,” such as the administration’s package of legislation) passed first crossover last week. Just under 14 percent of bills authored by dissidents survived.

Of legislators who have had the most success in getting their own bills passed, 13 of the top 14 are strong supporters of the speaker.

They include Rep. Pono Chong (50 percent); Rep. Isaac Choy (43 percent), who was Say’s key negotiator with dissidents in the House reorganization; Majority Leader Blake Oshiro (39 percent); Speaker Emeritus Joe Souki (32 percent); Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro (31 percent); and Say himself (31 percent).

Rep. Roy Takumi is the only dissident who managed to get more than one-fourth of his bills passed (33 percent).

The chief negotiator for the dissidents, Rep. Scott Nishimoto, has a bill-passing percentage of 24 percent, the same percentage shared by another dissident, Rep. Mina Morita, who is now chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission.

A fourth dissident, Rep. Della Au Belatti, saw 23 percent of her bills pass.

Of the 13 other dissidents, however, none saw more than 18 percent of his or her bills passed.

Author Introduced Alive Percent Alive
Say Supporters 770 180 23.4%
Dissidents 465 64 13.8%
Republicans 122 3 2.5%
By Request 286 94 32.9%
Grand Total 1,665 343 20.6%

Source: Civil Beat analysis of Hawaii House of Representatives data. View the full data analysis.

Interpreting the Numbers

Civil Beat’s data-crunching comes with some caveats.

Take Luke, for example: She authored only five bills. Minority Leader Gene Ward also has a 0 percent rating, though he introduced 45 bills.

Take, for example, Say supporter Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, who, at 55 percent, has the highest percentage of bills alive at crossover of any lawmaker. But he authored only 11 bills, five of which died.

Dissident Rep. Mark Takai, however, authored 50 bills; because only six remain alive, his success rate is only 12 percent.

Another caveat: Takumi has a relatively successful track record in passing bills because he is a veteran lawmaker and runs the vital Education Committee. Choy and Chong have been responsible for moving along revenue-raising measures, the single-greatest task for a cash-strapped Legislature.

The reality is that most bills die. In the current session, only 343 measures survived out of the 1,665 total bills introduced through the House.

But lawmakers who supported Speaker Say had an edge when it came to carrying out their own agenda.

Say’s Lieutenants

Getting bills passed is not the only indicator of influence. Many lawmakers weigh in on many bills, suggesting amendments and helping to craft bill language — i.e., sausage-making.

Perhaps the greatest factor in getting bills passed is who the committee chairs and vice chairs are. In that regard, Say’s supporters still rule the roost.

Of the 20 House committees, seven are run by dissidents, and only two of those committees — Education and Judiciary — have real power.

Takumi has run Education for years, so the only plum concession, if you will, from Speaker Say to House dissidents was allowing Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran to run judiciary. But that job was open, because Jon Riki Karamatsu resigned to run for lieutenant governor last year.

Meantime, Say picked supporter Rep. Joey Manahan to be vice speaker, replacing another Say acolyte, Mike Magaoay, who stepped down to run for the state Senate.

Leading dissident Rep. Cindy Evans kept the job she had last year, majority floor leader.

Another concession was making Rep. Mele Carroll majority whip.

But it was an empty gesture, because the number of majority whips was expanded from one to five this session. They include Tokioka and Chong, and Chong was the sole majority whip last session.

Carroll’s success rate in passing her own bills? Five percent.

One other note: A further concession to House dissidents was the creation of more committee chairs. To that end, the House expanded from 18 to 20 the number of committees by splitting one committee into three.

Two of the new committees — Tourism, and Culture and the Arts — are chaired by dissident reps. Tom Brower and Jessica Wooley, respectively. Wooley’s success rate in passing her own bills is just 10 percent, while Brower’s is only 4 percent.

One chair position — Energy and Environmental Protection — is temporarily being filled by its vice chair, Rep. Denny Coffman, another dissident who is conducting committee business since the former chairwoman, Morita, was named by the governor to run the Public Utilities Commission.

Speaker Say told Civil Beat a permanent replacement for Morita would not be named until her successor is appointed by the governor. The new chair will be an indication of either Say’s further consolidation of power, or a gift to dissidents, as “EEP” is an important committee.

How Members See It

Civil Beat spoke to Carroll, Brower and Wooley, and each said they enjoyed their new positions and believed they were making contributions to the legislative process.

Wooley, for example, said she is having success in working to revive a symphony for Honolulu.

Carroll admitted that many of her bills were controversial — like legalizing bingo on Hawaiian Homelands. But her most cherished bill, on helping residents with mortgage foreclosures, is now moving through the Senate.

Brower also cautioned that some lawmakers become “bill-making windmills,” meaning they just keep submitting bill after bill. He acknowledges that dynamics like clashing personalities can also be a factor.

But Brower also made this observation: “If you are a lobbyist, who would you rather have introduce your bill — someone in leadership or someone whose room you haven’t been to in 10 years?”

Privately, some dissidents Civil Beat spoke with grumbled that some of their bills received triple referrals, meaning a bill must go through three committees to pass over to the Senate. It’s often the kiss of death for legislation.

There are also complaints about requests for capital improvement projects — “CIP” money to fund projects in lawmakers’ districts.

The lawmaker in charge of that selection is Rep. Kyle Yamashita, a Say supporter who forwards the final list onto Marcus Oshiro, who incorporates the list into the budget. (Yamashita’s bill-passing rate is 32 percent.)

That said, Carroll says she was able to get $11 million in CIP money for a hospital on Lanai. What helped, she believe, is that Yamashita, like Carroll, represents Maui.

Speaker Say told Civil Beat he sees nothing wrong with Yamashita’s work, and he strongly denies any favoritism in doling out CIP or in passing bills.

“When we make referrals with bills, we are not even looking at the sponsors,” said Say. “I believe every chair gives a fair shake to bills at a hearing.”

Say said he views his job from a “global perspective,” meaning that it is state government’s responsibility to hear legislation requested by lawmakers and bills suggested for consideration by others.

“There are no bad feelings (over House reorganization),” he said. “We are working collectively very well, and if you look at the floor vote last week … everything passed. We did our job.”

Says Majority Leader Oshiro: “My sense is that when it comes to the ability to get bills passed, there are a whole host of factors. Some legislators pay a lot of attention to their bills, facilitate and shepherd them, and some don’t at all. It runs the gambit.”

That it does.

Of note is the fact that two Republican House members, Barbara Marumoto and Corinne Ching, are actually having as much or more “success” passing bills (9 percent and 8 percent, respectively) as some dissidents and Say supporters.

GOP leader Ward thinks that may be due in part to his party’s involvement in the struggle over speaker.

(Depending on one’s take, Say either sought out GOP support, or the GOP sought to give the speaker support; either way, the minority did vote for the majority leader.)

“Even though my bills have died, language in at least two of them — on a media shield and on a ‘starlight reserve’ for night lighting — are alive in other bills,” said Ward. “I’m not boastful, but we’ve got good reps this year and there is a breeze toward our back.”

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