It's official; Maui Democrat Joseph M. Souki was finally accepted as speaker of the Hawai'i State House of Representatives on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the opening day of the new legislative session in Honolulu.
Minutes later, the new speaker's committee assignments were also ratified by a vote of 30 yes, 20 no with one excused.
Nobody said a change in House leadership would be easy, and at the outset, few believed that Souki could assemble the necessary majority of 26 votes to oust long-serving Speaker Calvin Say.
Bi-partisan cooperation is theme of new State House coalition. New speaker of the Hawai‘i State House Rep. Joseph M Souki, a veteran Maui Democrat, shares a moment with Aaron Ling Johanson, the O‘ahu Republican who helped make the new majority coalition a reality.
But never underestimate the power of old grudges mixed with a bi-partisan coalition to turn the tables.
The Souki faction prevailed with a substantial assist from Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson. The O'ahu Republican brought the other six members of the Republican House delegation over with him to the Souki side. The seven Souki Republicans combined with a large number of Souki Democrats formed what turned out to be an unlikely, but bulletproof, majority.
In Hawai'i, the very word "bipartisan" is considered a novelty, since up to now, the state has been the bluest of blue. But as Souki pointed out in his initial bid, the rules say the House shall organize by a vote of a majority of its members, not a vote of the majority of Democrats. And with that thought to guide him, he pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
How this brand new animal will play out is anyone's guess. But on the afternoon of opening day, all doors were open and there were smiles all around--even if some of them seemed a bit forced.
That is not to imply that the Say faction gave up without a fight.
The outgoing speaker delayed vacating his cushy corner office on the fourth floor as long as possible, and did not actually depart until the day before the session convened.
Even then, his supporters continued to maneuver to obstruct Souki; they even took it to the floor on the morning of the first day with motions, roll calls, recesses and other parliamentary maneuvering that left little doubt that from their point of view, it wouldn't be over until it was over, and they were prepared to drag it out to the bitter end.
Just which side was "nasty," "obstructionist," "mean-spirited" and "out for revenge" depended on who was telling the story. But it was clear that feeling ran hot on both sides; insiders think that the differences between the two sides will not be so easily repaired.
However, among observers looking on from the outside many saw a new bi-partisan coalition as a positive, and the first step in doing the public's business in a more open and shared way.
The top leadership role for Souki is actually a reprise. He formerly held the speakership post during the 1990s, until he was unseated 14 years ago by Say. For Maui, the post is seen as a plus, since it comes at a time when the Valley Isle has many urgent matters pending before the Legislature.
Maui also contributed several new faces to the new majority by seating two young, first-term representatives, both of whom were on the Souki roster. They were Rep. Kaniela Ing (D) representing South Maui's House District 5 and Rep. Justin Woodson (D) representing Central Maui House District 9.
Woodson was newly appointed to the post by Gov. Neil Abercrombie only a few days earlier. He filled the seat vacated by Gil Keith-Agaran (D), who was appointed to fill a state Senate vacancy created when Maui's Shan Tsutsui (D) was name lieutenant governor, after former Lt. Gov Brian Schatz (D) was named to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy created by the recent death of the state's senior U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D).
Whatever the long-term effect of the reshuffle, it's clearly a new day on the House side of the state Legislature.