The Handiwork Of A Wily Old Pol

By the time you read this, someone will have organized Hawaii’s House of Representatives – maybe. And it may be Maui’s Joe Souki, the amiable octogenarian former speaker. Calvin Say unseated Joe a dozen years ago, but the faction of dissident Democrats unhappy with Say’s stewardship has grown over the years.

Add the seven Republican members of the House to the dissidents’ number, as Souki has apparently done, and Joe gets his gavel back.

Or maybe he doesn’t. Say counted his support, found it wanting, and took himself out of the running for the speakership, deferring instead to his longtime supporter and House Finance chairman Marcus Oshiro.

Oshiro will appeal to fellow Democrats willing to work with Republicans in organizing the House with a simple question: “How could you? Look to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, wherever Republicans have gained control of state government. Workers’ rights are imperiled. Women’s rights compromised. The sky falls.”

But then again, who’s afraid of seven lonely Republicans? In all probability, no one. There’s the larger question, however, of how a party so large as Hawaii’s Democrats could allow such a splintering to take place.

Easy. Ask a Republican. In particular, an Ohio Republican named John Boehner, who serves as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on the basis of the Republicans’ 233-member majority in the 435-member House.

But Boehner doesn’t rule. His majority splits terribly, between tea partiers who wish to vote “No!” on everything – higher tax rates for the wealthy, disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and virtually anything proposed by President Barack Obama – and those few House Republicans who believe they were sent to Washington to govern, to compromise, to move the country forward – apparently like Boehner himself.

Parties just aren’t worth much anymore – and haven’t been for some time. Money dominates politics, unions and churches dominate politics, so too do ideology and a list of lobbies far too long for the space allotted to this humble column.

Occasionally individual politicians can dominate as well. Nationally, the two Roosevelts, Republican Teddy and Democrat Franklin, defined the political eras in which they held office. Locally, Jack Burns and Dan Inouye exercised enormous influence over Hawaii’s democracy, both as office-holders and party leaders.

Neil Abercrombie may do the same. In the last year alone, his supporters helped the inexperienced Tulsi Gabbard upset former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann for the 2nd District congressional seat, and Abercrombie himself appointed his 40-year-old lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to the Senate seat vacated by Inouye’s death.

Add his early championing of Obama’s candidacy for president in 2008, his surprise return from Washington to win the governorship in 2010, and his signing of the civil unions bill, and Abercrombie can claim political prescience unmatched by anyone on Hawaii’s current political landscape.

Then consider the political loyalists Abercrombie has gathered with his seemingly endless appointments of legislators to cabinet and sub-cabinet posts, which in turn has allowed him to name people to replace them in the state House or Senate. It goes on and on and on, and will contribute mightily to his reelection campaign two years hence.

Parties may weaken, caucuses may splinter, but wily old pols and their many appointees will prevail.