Departing legislators open leadership posts
At least eight lawmakers and possibly more will not be returning to their seats in the Hawaii Legislature next session, leaving open several key leadership positions.
These are the known departures, with the latest announcement from Maui Republican Rep. Chris Halford yesterday. Halford, who has served 12 years in the Legislature, cited the need to take care of his mother as the reason he will not be seeking re-election.
More changes will likely be in the offing as House members and some senators face challenges to their re-election and one could win a seat in Congress.
The departures are expected to have little impact on the 80-20 breakdown of Democrats and Republicans in both houses, although some seats could shift.
Of the eight who have announced their departures, two are in the 25-member Senate and six will give up seats in the 51-member House.
After 14 years in the Senate, Sen. Brian Kanno (D, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) announced on the final day of the session that he would be finishing up his master's degree in social work and seeking a job in the field instead of returning to his seat.
That could mean a political shift in the district and the loss of a strong pro-labor leader as head of the Senate Labor Committee, said Dan Boylan, a political analyst and history professor at the University of Hawaii.
"You couldn't get much more liberal than Brian. So likely a more conservative person will take that position," Boylan said.
The Senate will also be losing Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) who is among several politicians running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua), who heads the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, is also among the leaders in the Senate who are seeking Case's spot in Congress.
A win would mean Hanabusa, who wields considerable power in the Senate, would need to give up her state seat. Her term doesn't end this year and she doesn't have to give up her seat to run for Congress. Other senators running who also do not have to give up their seats unless they win are Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe), chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee; Sen. Ron Menor (D, Mililani-Waipio), chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee; and Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau), the vice-chairman of two committees.
Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Tantalus-Makiki) will be leaving his spot to be a candidate for Congress. He'll be vacating the vice chairmanship of the House Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee, which is also losing its chairman with the retirement of Rep. Ezra Kanoho (D, Wailua-Koloa).
Kanoho is one of three veteran leaders to be retiring from the House, including Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Alewa Heights-Kalihi), who heads the Health Committee, and Rep. Helene Hale (D, Pahoa-Kalapana) who leads the International Affairs Committee.
"That creates a major vacuum. I think it's about, if you add it all up, close to about 50 years of public service that we'll be missing," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise).
Among the biggest issues that could face the Legislature next year is how the state will form a new native Hawaiian government should a bill granting them a degree of self-government get federal approval this fall, Say said.
Legislators will also need to contend with filling the financial gaps left behind by federal cuts in funding, including in education, human services and veterans services, he said.
Say, however, wouldn't discuss who he feels will likely rise to fill the departing legislators' shoes.
"At this point, first and foremost, like I've shared with the members of the majority caucus: Please get re-elected first," he said.