Sen. Sam Slom
Sen. Sam Slom

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, is the only Republican in the 25-member state Senate. But Democrats want him to feel the love.

Senate President Shan Tsutsui asked Slom to serve as vice chair of the Senate Economic Development and Housing Committee.

That might sound insignificant. But this is the first time in about two decades that a Republican has been allowed to serve as a chair or vice chair of a committee.

In the early 1990s, Republican Senators Mary George and Stan Koki supported Senator Richard Wong in his bid to become Senate president, and when he was successful, Wong kept his promise and named them both chairs.

Though both Democrats and Republicans said the bipartisan effort worked out, no Senate president since Wong has allowed a Republican to serve as chairman or vice chairman of a committee.

Slom, a consulting economist, advocate for small businesses and contributor to Hawaii Reporter, will serve as the vice chair of the Economic Development and Housing Committee as well as serve on the Senate’s 16 other committees.

As the “lone ranger,” Slom must organize his staff so that even if several committees are meeting simultaneously, he has them covered. Despite being a caucus of one, he has among the best attendance records in the Senate, and has only missed one floor session day in 16 years – the day his then father-in-law died.

“I thank both Senate President Shan Tsutsui, and Committee Chair Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, for their offer of bi-partian leadership and for their confidence in the sole Minority Senator,” said Slom, who also serves as president of business advocacy group, Smart Business Hawaii, and heads Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation.

“I did discuss with both of them that at times I probably will find myself at odds with specific controversial legislative initiatives of the Committee, but, to their credit, they both said that they support more open discussion and better legislation.”
Slom said Economic Development and Housing is a vital component in advancing Hawaii’s opportunities. “While we may have differences, Chair Dela Cruz and I share strong opposition to any additional taxes on our beleaguered middle class, more business that will generate jobs and revenues, and a fair, efficient process for completing needed state and private projects that will generate more economic choices for all of our residents,” Slom said.
Dela Cruz, who chairs the Economic Development and Housing Committee, said improving the economy, creating more jobs and improving the business climate are some of the most important tasks for the legislative body.
“I think everyone can agree that fixing our economy has to be one of the top issues as well as reducing the burden on working families and senior citizens and investiing in new industries and encouraging new industries,” Dela Cruz said. “The good thing about the economic development committee is it does cross into a lot of other committees, such as the University of Hawaii, as well as agriculture, research, energy and transportation.”
Dela Cruz said the committee will focus on job creation that is sensitive to the community and bringing in more tax revenue by expanding business opportunities rather than tax increases. They will also look into the efficiency and effectiveness of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, which is charged with working on these issues.
Dela Cruz said he is pleased to have Slom as his vice chair because of his experience, tenure and attitude. “Sam does bring the business background to the legislature because he is as a small business man and has all of his experience there. He also has a long tenure in the Senate, he does his homework, and even though he is the only Republican, he works hard to find common ground. In some cases, we can agree to disagree but we all want to do what is in the best interest of Hawaii. We want to make all the things we promised during this recent campaign real.”
“I sit next to him in Ways and Means, and in addition to all those things, he has a cordial personality and a good sense of humor. I think that is important because these are not easy issues that we deal with, so anyone who can bring levity to the situation, despite what the environment is, is appreciated.”
While the economic development committee will tackle tough issues, Dela Cruz said like many other senators, neither he or Slom are afraid of controversy. “The Senate does not run away from these discussions,” Dela Cruz added.