On Politics
Richard Borreca

Speaker Say
fends off the opposition

It was after the 1998 election, when the Republicans were starting to make a run, that Maui Rep. Joe Souki, the outspoken speaker of the House, said the voters sent no message and business would be as usual.

That was enough of a signal for Rep. Calvin Say, the Finance Committee chairman, to seize control of the speakership. A dutiful and hard-working legislator, Say had been biding his time, waiting for a chance to step up, and when it came he took it.

This year, a new group of House Democrats had hoped that this would be the year to topple Say. But the 28-year legislative veteran opened his Christmas present three weeks early and patiently organized the House again this year.

Much of the passion of past House organization struggles was missing this year, and if the power game caused more than a ripple in the flow of Democratic dominance, it was not notable.

Even Rep. Brian Schatz, one of the more outspoken proponents of change, reflected on his group's loss, saying, "Everyone likes Calvin, I like Calvin."

An ambitious group of younger Democrats who said they wanted a more open House operation had challenged Say this year. At best, Schatz, who organized the move with Rep. Scott Saiki, said they had 18 or 19 votes.

That was enough to block Say from organizing, because he needed 26 out of the 41 Democrats to keep majority control of the House. But the 18 or 19 total was not enough to grow a majority. As Say called the opponents in for individual conferences, the young Democrats started to fall away.

Schatz and Saiki, who now freely admit "we are in Siberia," lost their leadership positions after their takeover attempt failed. The only winner from the young Democrat group was Rep. Sylvia Luke, who, although she opposed Say, was given the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee.

Young Democrats worked for the last two years to promote new candidates and strengthen their base in the House, but when the election came, it was Say who had raised the money for a unified Democratic campaign and also kept a political organization together.

Meanwhile Say is able to bring along his own supporters and can grow his own cadre of supporters.

Say has been a strong partisan who was willing to mix it up with Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, but he is also a financial conservative who has withstood efforts by Democratic colleagues to raise taxes.

With only 10 Republicans in the House when the 2005 Legislature opens next month and a diminished Democratic opposition, Say should find the House chamber a home he can enjoy.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at rborreca@starbulletin.com.

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