Souki confident he’s next House speaker

HONOLULU (AP) – Wailuku state Rep. Joe Souki said after leaving a private caucus among Democrats this week that he has the support to be the next speaker of the House.

Souki remained confident that he will replace House Speaker Calvin Say after his coalition held firm during the caucus.

The Wednesday meeting was the first of House Democrats since the November elections.

“I will be speaker on opening day,” said Souki, a Democrat representing Waihee, Waiehu and Wailuku. “They’ll work out the details. Everybody gave their best shot, and so now we’ll go on to the business of serving the public.”

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, a Central Oahu Democrat who is Say’s pick as his successor, said he has not conceded the speaker post to Souki. But he acknowledged that Souki likely will have a majority among Democrats.

When Republicans threw their votes behind Say during a leadership fight two years ago, they were offered greater staff parity and an extra slot on the House Finance Committee.

Rep. Scott Saiki, a downtown Honolulu Democrat, who would become majority leader under Souki, said the coalition intends to keep that commitment to Republicans.

“We will not go back on our word on that, and there was disagreement on that point. But I think there was agreement that the Democrats would have to work together over the next two years and find ways to bring the caucus together so that this does not happen again,” he said.

Saiki and Oshiro said that they will meet privately in the next few days to discuss the remaining unfilled committee slots and when law-makers can move into different offices to reflect their new positions.

While Souki’s coalition of dissident Democrats and Republicans has the votes necessary to control the House, the Maui Democrat is temporarily one vote shy of being able to organize among majority Democrats alone, a politically symbolic threshold that would make it easier for him to govern.

Maui Democrats are expected to forward the names of three nominees to Gov. Neil Abercrombie this weekend or early next week to fill a House vacancy created when the governor appointed Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran to the state Senate. The appointee, who is likely to support Souki as speaker, could be named before the session starts Wednesday.

Early this week, Abercrombie appointed Keith-Agaran to the Central Maui Senate seat left open when Shan Tsutsui accepted an appointment as lieutenant governor. He took that position after the governor tapped Brian Schatz to serve in the U.S. Senate seat vacated when senior U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye died Dec. 17.