Karamatsu quits post in wake of DUI arrest
»Lawmaker’s blog urges ‘caution’ driving after one drinks
Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu stepped down as vice speaker of the House yesterday, just more than a week after he spent the night in jail on a drunken driving charge.
Karamatsu submitted his letter of resignation from the vice speaker's post. The action came as the House and Senate convened for a special legislative session to address the Hawaii Superferry issue.
House Speaker Calvin Say immediately relieved him of his duties as vice speaker but did not formally accept his resignation.
Say said Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa) will take over Karamatsu's duties as vice speaker and that the leadership issue will be dealt with again in January, when the 2008 Legislature convenes.
"There may be a reorganization, and I think that is the best time to be addressing ... who the new vice speaker may be or wherever Jon may go at this point," Say said after the session.
Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo Valley) also relinquished his own duties as speaker for the remainder of the special session, saying he did not want any appearance of impropriety after it was learned that his son was among the 249 Superferry employees furloughed earlier this month.
While Say said he does not believe he has a conflict of interest, he decided to hand over the duties "for the greater good of the institution."
"People have the perception that I am already biased, but I'm not," he said. "I supported this issue four years ago when it first came up."
The duties of the speaker were handed over to Majority Floor Leader Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa) after Caldwell, who in his role as vice speaker would be next in line, declined the post, saying he wanted to have the ability to debate issues that come to the floor during the session. The speaker typically does not engage in floor debate.
Karamatsu, a Democrat in his third term, remains the representative of the Waipahu-Waikele House district.
As to whether he should resign his seat, Say said, "Let the voters be the judge."
It would be up to the members of the House to determine any punishment for Karamatsu. Say has said the House will not consider any disciplinary action against Karamatsu until his court case is completed.
Karamatsu attended yesterday's House session but did not speak. The House clerk read from his letter, which stated in part, "I feel that my continued presence as a part of the House leadership would be a disruptive influence, and I do not wish to be a cause of disorder, concern or distraction."
Police said Karamatsu was traveling west on the Moanalua Freeway near the Ahua Street overpass at about 1:15 a.m. Oct. 17 when he struck a concrete pillar.
He later was arrested after police said he registered a blood-alcohol content level of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit, which qualifies as "excessive" drunken driving under state law.
Karamatsu, a lawyer and owner of an Internet small business, spent the night in custody and was arraigned later that morning. Bail was set at $500.
He pleaded not guilty, which is common at an initial court appearance, and said afterward he might fight the "excessive" drunken driving charge. Under a law passed in 2006, one that Karamatsu supported, anyone caught with an alcohol level of 0.15 or above faces a mandatory six-month driving prohibition.
Karamatsu acknowledged he drove after drinking with friends that night, calling it a "serious error in judgment."
Star-Bulletin reporter Gene Park contributed to this report.
Lawmaker’s blog urges ‘caution’ when driving after one drinks
State Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, an active blogger, posted an article about his arrest on Oct. 20. The item was deleted within hours, but other bloggers re-posted some of his comments and the article also was archived in various Internet search engines.
"I was emotionally in pain," he wrote.
He also explained why he spoke to reporters immediately after his court appearance, even though he did not have an attorney.
"The media followed me everywhere," he wrote. "They somehow found me getting my things at my car. I talked to the media honestly, and as an attorney myself, I knew I wasn't suppose to say anything. I sacrificed my legal rights to the media. I was scolded by many attorneys for this. However, if I followed my legal rights, the media would have made me look bad."
Karamatsu also said he would work to turn his arrest into a positive experience, by educating others on the dangers of drunken driving.
"I did some research and realized that one must proceed on the side of caution when it comes to driving after one drinks, even if it is only a couple of drinks," he wrote. "Just because one feels okay does not mean he or she will pass a Breathalyzer test. We all absorb alcohol at different rates."