State House Speaker Emeritus Rep. Joe Souki of Maui indicated that he is willing to replace his friend and fellow Democrat, House Speaker Calvin Say, but only if the votes come his way without him having to ask for them.
"I think it depends at this point on how much I really want it," said Souki, who was approached over the phone by anonymous House members saying they had 18 votes for him. "If the majority feels a change is in order, I should consider it."
Souki would need 26 of 51 votes to come his way to take back the top leadership post in the state House that he lost to Say in 1998.
So why change things up now?
"It's one of the oldest reasons there is in politics," Souki said. "You have the haves and the have-nots, who want to be the haves. It comes down to power. Everybody wants to be in a certain position to make choices.
"It's not like they think the leadership is doing a terrible job. It's just that everybody thinks they can do better. That's the very nature of politics," Souki said.
He also said: "I have a lot of respect for Calvin."
The behind-the-scenes lobbying is occurring now because a couple weeks after the general election - with the Democrats likely to maintain their big majority - the speaker must reorganize the committee heads, both Souki and Say said.
On Thursday, Say, 60, said that he has no idea why these "dissidents" are trying to dump him and court the 79-year-old Souki, other than for more chairpersonships.
Souki doesn't like the term "dissidents." They are just the other side of Say's voting bloc with some different views, he said.
"I don't know who the competition is," Say said of the supposedly younger, liberal members. "I've always tried my best in finding out what their goals are. I think most of them have been chairs or in leadership roles. I don't know why they are pursuing this, unless they just want this office abstractly.
"If it's personal, I don't know why," Say said.
When asked why these lawmakers would want part of the old guard as their new speaker, Souki said that's because he often breaks from the party line.
"I still have a little fire in me," he said with a laugh. "Some call me the conscience of the House. I'm not afraid to speak my mind, and I explain to people what's really happening."
He said he's also a mentor to a lot of those "others."
Say said he contacted Souki when he heard the news. He said, like Souki, that he will not actively seek votes but will leave that up to his supporters, if it's something they want. No horse trading is going on, they said.
And no one wants to name names either, Say said. No one wants it to get personal and potentially jeopardize their legislation down the road, he said.
Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran, who represents Central Maui and won re-election in the primary election, said that he did not want to comment about the House leadership.
"I'm happy Speaker Souki and I have talked about it, and he told me they want him to be the (House) speaker or finance (committee) chair if he wants it," Say said. "Right now, he is supporting me yet, but if he wants to be released, I have nothing but respect for him.
"I say let the cards fall where they may," Say said.
However, he added that Democrats are likely to maintain control in the House and Senate, and they'll have a Democrat in the Governor's Office. So why disrupt a course of action that is garnering positive results with sustainable environmental, economic, agricultural and other policies, Say asked.
"I do have a vision and the stability and continuity and try to create jobs and balance the budget without increasing the general excise tax," Say said.
The speaker typically uses his clout to try to reason with a chairperson when a caucus bill stalls in committee, Say said. The bills he sponsors often are considered important by the party or governor. But Say said his personal style is to delegate until something reaches him.
Senate President Shan Tsutsui also is from Maui. So if Souki regains his top spot, Maui will be holding the top leadership posts in both houses in the Legislature. But that could also be used as an argument against Souki when most of the population lives on Oahu.
As for that, Souki said that he doubts "we will agree on everything" and that the county delegation will get whatever it wants. But he said it "probably would be great for Maui."
"Maui is very well represented today," said Say, noting that Reps. Souki, Keith-Agaran, Angus McKelvey and Kyle Yamashita all have crucial chairmanships.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.