Who's in charge of the Senate?
AFTER they voted and Glenn Kim became a circuit court judge Friday afternoon, Democratic senators were still running the numbers.
What did it mean? Not for Kim, he's a judge for the next 10 years, but for the Senate, where the fractured politics means any committee chairman is only as good as his or her last coalition.
Both Sen. Clayton Hee, Judiciary Committee chairman, and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa voted against Kim, a 14-year veteran deputy city prosecutor. Questions arose about Kim's "judicial temperament" after two former deputy prosecutors testified that he could be abusive and disrespectful.
AS ARCANE as it is, Senate politics is important because it's the Senate leaders who decide who gets to decide.
Do you want to be a judge, do you want a bill killed, do you want a special appropriation? It matters who runs the Judiciary Committee, who is in charge of Ways and Means and who is Senate president.
For Hanabusa, a vote against one of her committee chairmen is a vote against her leadership, although she argues that all 20 Democrats were free to vote their conscience.
But she noted that as Senate president she felt a responsibility to support her chairmen and would follow their vote.
Party loyalty and hanging with your gang are accepted, but in the Senate, Hee is a source of concern.
As one senator, who asked to be anonymous, said after the session: "I hope Hee got the message, and I hope his majority also got the message."
In the Senate's hot-house world of political prima donnas, even Hee's colleagues call him a "drama queen" who goes out of his way to milk the moment for attention.
Hee held the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1988 and 1989, before he became chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Former senators still remember that his hearings into the nomination of Judge Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. were some of the most divisive to be held in the Capitol.
TODAY the situation is unstable, but not collapsing.
Hanabusa says the vote was difficult because Hee was asking for rejection of Kim, not approval. She recalls that when she was judiciary chairwoman, she had concerns about the nomination of Rick Bissen to the Maui court, but in the end the vote was for confirmation.
"Those days of going around and saying you have to vote whichever way the majority says aren't here anymore," Hanabusa says.
A more fractious Senate is to be expected, but the question of the political power of both Hee and Hanabusa was not answered on the Senate floor last Friday.