State House Speaker Calvin Say, who is still one vote short of keeping control of the House, has invited his faction to lunch on Wednesday at the Empress Restaurant.
The leadership stalemate has gone on so long that some insiders are legitimately wondering whether it will last until opening day of the state Legislature on Jan. 19.
In 1971, state Rep. Hidoshi Kato’s challenge to Speaker Tadao Beppu went unresolved for nearly two weeks after session convened — 10 legislative days — before Republicans broke the deadlock by siding with Beppu.
According to accounts in The Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin*, Kato and his faction wanted to change House rules and dilute the power of the House Finance Committee. Kato said Finance had become like a “super-committee” with too much control over state spending. He wanted to give subject-matter committees more discretion over state programs, while Finance would continue to set spending limits.
While that was the main reason cited, Kato’s challenge was also about power in an era when Gov. John Burns and the more progressive Thomas Gill fought over the ideological direction of the Democratic Party. Kato, who had the backing of the influential International Longshore and Warehouse Union, wanted more leadership posts and committee chairmanships for his loyalists.
Kato tried to take Beppu out at a private caucus shortly after the November 1970 elections but fell short. Negotiations between the two factions collapsed in the weeks before session, so opening day came and went with no vote on a speaker, new rules or leadership posts and committee chairmanships. Under House rules, Rep. Jack Suwa, who represented House District 1 on the Big Island, became presiding officer.
Beppu, who had been speaker since 1967, had 22 votes. Kato had 12 votes. Republicans controlled the other 17 seats.
The GOP had fun with the stalemate. House Republican floor leader Joseph Garcia, Jr., said people might have to acknowledge “a great error” in electing so many Democrats. Republican lawmakers wore badges taunting Democrats over how much it was costing to have the House in session with no leaders (“Day 2 $19,573.”)
On Day 7, freshman Rep. Diana Hansen, a 23-year-old Windward Republican, used her maiden floor speech to claim majority Democrats were “acting like donkeys” or “like spoiled children squabbling over the biggest piece of li hing mui.”
Democrats also tried to lighten the tension. “The Lord may have rested on the seventh day,” East Honolulu Rep. Dennis O’Connor said, “but the Judiciary Committee will meet at 2 p.m.”
The first break came when Beppu agreed to a House rules package suggested by the Republicans. Kato alleged that Beppu was forming a coalition with the rival party, which Beppu denied.
But on the 10th legislative day all Republicans agreed to vote for Beppu, who also lured one of the dissidents, who would become vice speaker. The vote to keep Beppu as speaker was 40 to 11.
Beppu and the Republicans insisted that their alliance was for organizational purposes only — that no deal was offered and no coalition was formed. But Kato accused Beppu of shaking the foundation of the two-party system.
“Someone once said that a rose by any other name is still a rose,” said Kato, who lost his Judiciary Committee chairmanship and was assigned to lead the Public Utilities Committee.
*(The leadership fight played out in the pages of The Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin in what some consider the glory days of newspaper journalism. Gerry Keir followed the intrigue for The Advertiser; Buck Donham and David Shapiro covered it for the Star-Bulletin.
While their work received better placement than accounts of contemporary leadership struggles — many of the stories ran on the front page — the length of the stories and the level of detail were about the same. The reporters relied heavily on unnamed sources, since the negotiations were mostly private.)