BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – George Fontaine is among the 51 Hawaii House Representatives waiting to learn where their offices will be, what committees they will be serving on, who will hold chairman and vice chairman positions and what their office budget will be. And to make matters more confusing, the Hawaii State Legislature opens tomorrow.
The newly elected Republican from South Maui is virtually camping in his office with dress shirts hanging on a metal rack instead of in an armoire, artwork and awards in piles waiting to be posted and a refrigerator he is afraid to fill because he might, at any moment, be told to move offices.
Every House member is in flux because the House Democrats still have not agreed on a Speaker. Two factions are locked in a power struggle and until there is a decision, even simple acts like using the House copy shop are on hold.
Fontaine, a retired police captain, is used to adapting so that what needs to get done, does. But he and the other 7 House Republicans said today that they are concerned that House members cannot get down to business.
Without a speaker and chairs, no House committee hearings can be held. No calendar can be set.
The Senate, which organized several weeks ago, has been holding hearings and briefings for several weeks.
“We are concerned that the House majority is putting their power struggle before the people they are supposed to represent,” Fontaine says.
Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-Ewa, promoted a resolution today that will ask, in future sessions, the House majority to have an interim House speaker in place at least 45 days before the session begins.
House GOP members say making matters more chaotic: newly elected democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie won’t have the state budget ready until March.
“This is unprecedented,” says Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who added that normally governors turn over their budgets before the legislature starts because lawmakers base the final state budget on the governor’s initial plan.
With this schedule, Abercrombie will deliver his budget proposal to lawmakers half way through the session. The state is facing an $800 million shortfall, points out House Minority Leader Gene Ward, R-Hawaii Kai, making the session all the more challenging.
Fontaine and other lawmakers say delays by the House majority and the governor may force the legislature to extend the normally 60 day working session. “And that would cost the taxpayers more money,” says Fontaine.
Hawaii’s Senior Senator Daniel Inouye has been acting as a mediator of sorts between the House factions. He told the media last week that there could be political backlash of the stalemate continues until opening day: “If we can’t conduct ourselves like a majority party, then don’t be surprised if the people of Hawaii get a little disgusted about it. That should be common sense.”