Another year, another attempted House coup
Call it the cuckoo coup. For the second time in two years, veteran Speaker of the House Rep. Calvin Say was faced with a mini-revolt among his Democratic colleagues. Younger members of the state House, already crowded with 44 Democrats, wanted their own time in the sun.
Say (D, St. Louis-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo) has served 32 years in the House, going from not-too-powerful chairman of Culture and Arts to very powerful head of the Finance Committee before becoming speaker.
Coups are a part of life in politics and Say himself became House speaker in 1999 as a compromise offered by two factions.
The odd thing about last week's attempt to unseat Say was that the dissident Democrats wanted to make some unspecified deal with the seven Republicans.
Say said when he heard about the plan, the speakership was first offered to Rep. Hermina Morita of Kauai.
"When Chair Morita (she heads the Energy and Environment Committee) got cold feet after she heard it was with the Republicans, they substituted Rep. (Sylvia) Luke," Say said.
Luke was unavailable for comment but several representatives in both the Say and dissident factions acknowledged, on the condition of anonymity, that Luke was indeed put up for speaker.
When other Democrats found out that the coup would only work with help from the GOP, at least four Democrats lost their revolutionary fervor. It takes at least 26 votes to become speaker, and it appears the dissidents never got above 20 or 25, even with the GOP.
"I think the individuals who initiated it didn't think it through," Say said, adding that he doubted the state Democratic Party would look favorably on Democrats holding hands with the GOP in an election year.
"They all have the opportunity to do what they have to do," Say said of his rivals. Turning philosophical, Say adds that "I was brought up to understand that what goes around comes around.
"They have to live with their conscience and question why so fast. How many years did it take me to be speaker? Twenty-two," Say says.
The struggle for leadership in the House and Senate is often considered the ultimate insider game and rarely gets much media play.
But remember in the Hawaii Legislature, when it is time to decide what bill lives, what program is cut or even how much money there is to spend, the last two coming out of the back room are the speaker of the House and the Senate president.