GOP sees brighter
color in isles’
political picture

Republicans believe Lingle can
boost their legislative minority

By Richard Borreca

Last week, state House Minority Leader Galen Fox and other Republicans met with administration officials to discuss budget issues.

"We have been trying for months to get help, and now all of a sudden we have a Republican governor ... and they were saying, 'Whatever help you guys need, just let us know,'" Fox said. "These are the same people that four months ago would have told their bosses, 'We have some Republicans asking questions,' and the bosses would have said, 'Why help them?'

"Now, it is a different world," Fox said.

Fox, the veteran Waikiki representative, is enjoying a new experience at the state Capitol: a fellow Republican in charge of Hawaii.

For Republicans in the Legislature, who since statehood have never been in the majority, just being of the same party as the governor means some real political muscle.

Fox controls just 15 out of 51 House votes. His Senate colleague, Fred Hemmings, has only five out of 25 votes. But both have a whole new view on state politics.

For the GOP leaders, Gov. Linda Lingle means they will no longer be second-class political players.

"In the past, we have been just observers on the outside," Fox said. "But now, all the resources of the administration, all the people in the bureaucracy who have the figures and who know what the plans are, are available."

Hemmings sees the change in terms of finally getting phone calls returned and official requests acted upon.

"I know we have more influence," Hemmings said. "We can make a phone call upstairs and things start to happen. When in the past, it was just, 'We will get back to you on that.'"

Democrats, who still control the majority in both the House and Senate, however, don't share the GOP view that the legislative world has changed all that much.

"Numbers still count," Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) reminded the GOP.

But, he acknowledged, the GOP control of the governorship is a new factor.

"They do have access to information and data from the various departments and agencies, and that is a material change from past years," Oshiro said.

"They will probably receive information before we might, and I am sure that their relationship with the governor and her department heads will be a lot more cordial to them than to us," Oshiro added.

Hemmings said he expects that both the administration and his fellow Republicans will have a rough time with Democrats in the House. Hemmings said the Democrats had assumed they would maintain control over state government and it was a shock to lose the power of the governor's office.

"The House is made up of young Democrats who might now feel their legacy has been stolen from them and they will no longer be handed state government on a silver platter, so the House will be much more contentious," Hemmings said.

Oshiro doesn't see the differences in the same way, but he does admit that House Democratic leaders will no longer feel a need to protect the administration.

"It will be a lot different than in the past," Oshiro said. "In the past, we have always tried to bend over and save face. Now we don't have to."

Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa), the chairman of the Ways and Means committee, notes Republicans might be able to get Lingle to veto Democratic-sponsored legislation.

"If you have the ear of the administration, there is the ability to get her to veto something they don't like," Taniguchi said.

While Hemmings said that traditional Senate cordiality would preclude "such heavy-handed tactics," Fox said the House GOP caucus would "be part of the picture" if Democrats pushed a bill the GOP didn't like and a veto was being considered.

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