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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Republicans have
House Democrats bristling

I am happy to report that the old state House is back. After years of dozing in some LaLa land where we "just try to get along," the House is rediscovering the joys of combat.

The press has all but forgotten the sound of bombast in the morning, the marathon midnight sessions, the vicious delight politicians show in tearing apart an opponent's argument and the certainty of the correctness of their positions.

Once the House would end for the year on a final note of bitterness, with factions tossing recriminations and threats. Republicans and Democrats would conclude the session knowing their side was right.

Then a sort of peace reigned. First the heavy hand of former Speaker Henry Peters enforced the peace, and obedient legislators did what the speaker directed.

If they were to sing, they sang, if they were to hold hands, the hands were grasped. This was known as consensus and everyone was too afraid of Peters to say differently. There was great fellowship whether they liked each other or not.

Then the Republicans started to disappear and it didn't really matter whom the Democrats held hands with, it was another Democrat.

Speakers of the House, such as Danny Kihano and Calvin Say, were elected because they were "nice guys." Leaders such as Joe Souki, who had a bit more edge, didn't survive.

The speeches were filled with moments of "teaching and education." People thought this was if not productive, at least safe.

Then after years of dozing the Republicans repopulated the House, rising to 19 in number and announcing that they were back.

The Democrats' leader, Rep. Marcus Oshiro, offered the first provocation when he announced on opening day that the Democratic caucus was Hawaii because "it looks like its people, lives like its people and represents all its people."

This kind of slap would have been ignored by dozing Republicans in years past, but Rep. Charles Djou shot right back that this sounded like "prejudicial code words."

After all, Democrats have spent years on the campaign trail baiting the GOP for being the party of whites only. Oshiro was forced to defend himself, stating for the record that he wasn't a racist.

So it simmered until last week when the GOP tried to force the Democrats to take a vote on a series of bills bottled up in committee.

Republicans had the votes to pull the bills, but the Democrats trumped them with enough votes to have the bills recommitted. They did this for several days until finally the GOP started to stall the Legislature with forced roll call votes.

THIS is a form of filibuster. Depending on who does it, it is either an outrage against democracy or the brave soul of a democracy.

In Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith goes to Washington," it was the noble Jefferson Smith (James Stuart) who nearly collapsed during a lengthy filibuster to save a piece of land for a boy's camp. He was a hero.

When Trent Lott filibustered in the U.S. Senate last year to stop the McCain campaign reform bill, citizen reform groups said it was bad. When Ted Kennedy threatened a filibuster against John Ashcroft, some groups said it was good.

Now Oshiro sees the GOP "endangering" vital bills in a "mean-spirited" attempt to cause "horrendous delays."

The GOP meanwhile sees the effort as a fight for democracy.

Either way the state House will have to pay attention and the people will be paying attention to it.

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

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