A Smart Move By Sen. Hanabusa

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - June 06, 2007

The recent reorganization of committee chairs in the state Senate speaks volumes about who is in and who is out in BigSquareBuilding politics.

Sen. Clayton Hee, most recently serving as chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, is the apparent loser in this latest shakeup. Hee, who is arguably the most polarizing politician in Hawaii, is now relegated to a secondary committee chairmanship. I know the party line will claim the move is amicable and that Hee is looking forward to working on issues in his district affected by his new committee. But the bottom line is that Hee’s actions as Judiciary chair have proven to be a political liability.

If there is a smile on anybody’s face in light of this latest maneuver, it has to be found on former DLNR head Peter Young. Now I am certain that Peter has too much class to gloat or say “I told you so” as his nemesis has been taken down a notch or more. But if you witnessed just a portion of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, you will recall the mean-spirited, disrespectful conduct of the chair and, by extension, the committee at-large. As the several days of hearings dragged out, the Senate leadership stood by their assertions that this was simply the advise and consent process in play. But any observer and politico will tell you, the treatment of Peter Young was unprecedented and delivered a big, black eye to the Democratic-controlled Senate.

There will always be a political angle to actions like reorganizations. As much as Hee may be the loser in this scenario, the winner would have to be Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. She has defused a potentially damaging, if not distracting issue that predictably would be invoked in upcoming statewide elections. The GOP and the Lingle administration would have a juicy criticism of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, specifically the Senate if nothing of substantive consequence occurred.

Hanabusa benefits personally from this move, too. It is no secret that the Senate president is one of the brightest lights in the Democratic firmament. Her political stock rises since she can claim political independence from the status quo. Yes, she was the one responsible for Hee’s ascension to the Judiciary Committee chairmanship. But she can now claim the correction of a mistake, which carries even more political capital.

What does this all mean in a community where only 36 percent of registered voters actually cast a vote in the last election? It’s tough to say. I would think the machinations of political brinksmanship are lost on the vast majority of people. But for those who do pay attention to details, the Senate president has emerged from a potentially difficult political situation into smelling like the proverbial rose. Hee, however, has lost some of the swagger that defines his persona, and if he wants to find his way back from the political wasteland, he will have to mellow out and tow the party line - as difficult a task that may be.

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