Thursday, March 18, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Leadership coup fails
in state Senate

By Mike Yuen


Fearful that the Senate was moving too slowly to revitalize the economy, five freshmen Democratic senators attempted to oust three of the chamber's leaders -- but not Senate President Norman Mizuguchi.

The effort earlier this week fell short as the 13th senator needed to force a reorganization of the 25-member chamber apparently had a change of heart, several senators said. They declined to identify that lawmaker.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature What needs to happen now is better communication among all senators, Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) said yesterday.

If the Senate coup had been successful, it would have meant the ouster of Vice President Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei), who's also Judiciary Committee co-chairman; Majority Leader Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kaimuki); and Ways and Means Co-Chairwoman Carol Fukunaga (D, Makiki).

Mizuguchi conceded that the dissension stemmed in part from Fukunaga and her fellow co-chairman, Sen. Andrew Levin (D, Volcano), inadvertently killing 40 bills that the committee had approved. That happened when Fukunaga and Levin failed to have the measures in final form by a key legislative deadline.

Levin has said that while the measures died, all the issues they addressed were kept alive through various amendments in the House.

Many of Fukunaga's disenchanted colleagues see her as more at fault because of her leadership seniority on the money panel -- this is her third session as co-chairperson, while it is Levin's first.

"Senators were disappointed that some of their bills were stalled in several committees," Mizuguchi said, "so what we need to do at this point in time is to have communication between the senators who are feeling aggrieved."

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), one of the five freshmen who spearheaded the leadership challenge, said: "The problem I think we have is that we owe our constituents a lot more than what we're showing them now. You hear all of us talk about the economy, how we got to do something. Where's the beef? Where's the economic package? Where's the steps that are going to take us forward and kick start this economy?"

Aligned with Hanabusa were fellow freshman Sens. Jan Yagi Buen (D, Waihee), Jonathan Chun (D, Lihue), David Matsuura (D, Hilo) and Bob Nakata (D, Kaneohe).

The sixth member of the freshman class, Sen. Lorriane Inouye (D, Hilo), wasn't aligned with other first-term lawmakers.

Sen. Rod Tam (D, Pauoa) said he backed the freshmen because with the legislative session half completed, there doesn't appear to be anything from the Senate that will significantly help the economy.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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