Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, November 27, 1996


Will two chairmen
be better than one?

WHEN the state Senate says it is organized, it is more an affirmation of intention than a statement of fact. In other words, if the Senate says it is organized, then no matter what it looks like, it is organized.

Exactly what will happen with the Senate's unique power distribution set-up is a question that still generates more smiles and shoulder shrugs than complete answers.

This is not to say, however, that the Senate isn't trying. In an effort to distribute power, each Senate committee will have two leaders or co-chairmen.

At this stage in planning, committee chiefs will work out the details themselves. Lawmakers claim this will spread out the power.

No matter that, from the outside, it looks like the "Doublemint" plan of political spoils. Or perhaps the yin and yang of chairmanship.

Senate President Norman Mizuguchi, who may be seeing double but is occupying the top post all by himself, says that the chairmen were carefully chosen because they get along and won't fight.

"We tried to put people together who were already compatible," he said.

All this, Mizuguchi asserts, will lead to more representative government because single chairmen will not be able to bottle up a piece of legislation as has been done in the past. This, he says, will result in more public participation.

Sort of the "double your chairmen, double your clout" theory of government.

Proponents say it will increase the public's ability to influence legislation, although the details have yet to be worked out.

There are many things to be worked out. For instance, patronage, a subject near and dear to any politician's heart.

Who exactly gets to hire whom? And for the aforementioned hiring, who will be indebted to whom?

Mizuguchi said the chairmen will work this out for themselves. They can either agree on one hire or split the hires into two part-time hires.

Another question is what will become of the lobbyists. If you go to a fundraiser for one of the Ways and Means Committee chairmen, do you have to go to the fundraiser for the other?

Do you have to lobby twice as hard to get half an answer?

Finally, how is this going to affect legislation?

Legislators point to the Alaskan state House, which has operated with co-chairmen for several years, as proof that such a novel system can work.

MIZUGUCHI says the Senate has heard the public, tired of business as usual and now looking for responsive, open, honest, action-oriented, courageous government.

Somehow, the Senate distilled that message into, "Give us two chairmen for each committee."

Next week, the Senate's Democrats are planning a two-day retreat at Barbers Point. They are hoping to once more review the committee plan, get some rules lined up and start work on issues and legislation.

But for a body that is supposed to be finding solutions, it has organized itself into a curious creature that provokes more questions than answers.

Bifurcated committee chairmanships may sound reasonable in the off-season, but when the session starts in January, the Senate Democrats will have to prove not only that it works but that it delivers better laws.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com



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