GOP legislators struggle with little political clout


POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

Life is tough for the rare Republicans in Hawaii's Legislature: They are outnumbered and overwhelmed by Democrats.

The Republicans have a hard time passing laws or influencing votes. About all they can do is loudly speak out against measures they disagree with, knowing they will pass anyway.

Their desire to defeat same-sex civil unions legislation was a rare victory, but Democrats helped by failing to rally for a cause they supported.

Hawaii has only eight Republicans among its 76 lawmakers, the second most lopsided legislature in the nation. The GOP lost three seats in November's elections, giving Hawaii the biggest Democratic majority of any state but Rhode Island.

“;It's difficult coming to work every day when you're outnumbered 12-1,”; said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai), one of two Republicans in the 25-member Senate.

Democrats control every legislative committee and have super-majorities in both the House and Senate, which means they can override any veto from GOP Gov. Linda Lingle if they stay unified.

Slom and Minority Leader Fred Hemmings took heavy workloads so there would be Republican representation on each of the Senate's 14 committees. Slom sits on six committees, and Hemmings scurries around to keep up with eight.

“;It's sad because political monopolies are unhealthy,”; said Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo).

Republicans hope that by sticking to their principles, they'll gain sympathy with voters who do not want to see tax increases or layoffs despite the state's budget shortfall, said House Minority Leader Rep. Lynn Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village).

“;Outside the Capitol, we're starting to gain traction for not raising taxes in a time like this because it would be detrimental to the economy,”; Finnegan said.