Tough-talking speaker finds unexpected ally in governor


POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

If there is a day that Calvin Say doesn't think, “;Well, this is the way us Democrats do it,”; I would be surprised.

But not as surprised as I was to hear Republican Gov. Linda Lingle start layering on the praise about the 57-year- old House speaker.

Say is someone who enthusiastically raises money to defeat Republicans. A day when no GOP member of the House minority rises to complain or contradict, is a good day for Say.

Lingle called reporters together Friday and launched into a description of Say that included “;leadership”; and “;political courage,”; and offered that “;he should be getting credit for what he has done.”;

As much as Say is a strong and tough Democrat, Lingle is just as faithful a Republican, so the sudden enlisting in the Calvin Say Admiration Society is unusual.

The object of Lingle's admiration is a series of bills Say introduced. They include making new state workers work longer before getting retirement benefits and changing the way the retirement benefits unfunded liability plans are calculated. It is dry stuff, but it both saves money and worries the unions.

Say's bills would also get tough with state workers who retire before 62 and change portions of the state worker medical benefits contributions.

Perhaps the most courageous item is Senate Bill 1737, which would disallow retirement benefits to include overtime payments. Calculating OT into retirement is one of the reasons why state workers can retire sometimes years earlier and it is a much-loved benefit.

Say acknowledges he is already getting calls from friends and union members who are furious with him.

Part of why Lingle can think of Say as Captain Courageous is that his base of support includes the very union rank-and-file members that his proposals will attack.

Before becoming House speaker more than a decade ago, Say was House Finance Committee chairman. He set a portion of the state's fiscal policy during the disastrous days after the Japanese investment bubble burst. He remembers Arab and Canadian investment and he has seen Hawaii hotel fortunes go up and go down.

But the current recession is going to take strong medicine. Say has already been going through the state laws that cost the state money, the tax laws and tax breaks. Exemptions for nonprofits and charities have always been a troubling spot for Say.

The unions may be only the first of many sacred cows to become targets for the budget cutters. Then courage may be trumped by simply survival.


Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. Reach him at 525-8630 or at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)