Longtime Hawaii House Speaker Calvin Say officially dropped his re-election bid for the leadership post Thursday, acknowledging that he didn't have the votes needed to edge out Wailuku Rep. Joe Souki.
But the internal battle for the speakership isn't over.
Say is throwing his support behind House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro to succeed him.
Unlike Souki, Oshiro said he would not enlist the support of House Republicans to secure the minimum 26 votes needed from the 51-member House. He has inherited Say's 21 Democratic votes.
Souki, meanwhile, says he has 30 votes behind him - 23 from the House's 44 Democrats, plus all seven House Republicans. His Democratic supporters are led by a dissident faction of Democrats opposed to Say's leadership.
Souki said he's undeterred.
"I welcome the competition," he told The Maui News. "It's all about the numbers. If you have 26, you're the speaker. If you don't have 26, you're not. I have 30.
"They just changed one face to another face, but they still have the same numbers."
Oshiro, who has chaired the powerful Finance Committee the last six years, said some of Souki's supporters have privately expressed concerns about Souki's plan to give the GOP vice chairmanships of three key House committees.
"Some of those in (Souki's) faction might breathe a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that there's an option," Oshiro said. "There are those in that group who have always voiced concerns with empowering the seven Republicans' vote much more than what was given to them by the electorate.
"Obviously the voters of Hawaii have spoken and relayed their wishes in giving the majority of the seats in the House to Democrats."
Oshiro said he's confident that the majority party can organize without the minority caucus.
"I will not horse-trade with the Republicans to gain the needed votes," he said. "It's unsustainable, unworkable, unprofitable for both parties and, most importantly, it will hurt the general public."
Say echoed those concerns and said he did some "soul searching" after the general election to arrive at his decision to step aside.
"The day after the general election, we had 22 votes. As the weeks progressed, speaker emeritus (Souki) began to pick people off by promising them committee chairmanships," Say told The Maui News. "Knowing he had gone with the Republicans, I decided to pull back my re-election for speaker. People elected Democrats to work with Democrats. The institution is much more important than any individual like Calvin Say or Joe Souki."
Say has been speaker since 1999, making him the longest-serving speaker in state history.
Souki called Oshiro and Say's disdain for his bipartisan plan ironic.
"It's ironic that they are saying this when they did it themselves the last time around. They got the eight Republicans to sign over their support and showed it to the dissidents, so the dissidents had to go with them," Souki said. "They also were negotiating with the Republicans this year, but the minority chose to go with me."
Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen said in a statement that it's "unfortunate and highly ironic that members of Calvin Say's faction continue to criticize Speaker Joe Souki's attempts to organize with the Republican House members."
She added: "This isn't the first time that a Democratic majority faction has organized with the Republicans; some people are just more honest and transparent about it."
Oshiro said he wouldn't oppose support from the GOP.
"I'd be open to it. It's a matter of them, as the minority, having an equal say and voice as the majority," he said.
He said he will work to try to resolve the impasse among Democrats as soon as possible.
"It's up to the individual to seek out the votes one by one to gain members' confidence. I think I have a good relationship with the majority of the members," Oshiro said. "I'm optimistic that we can sit down and have these discussions, and I think we can resolve this thing before opening day."
Asked how he differs from Souki on policy issues, Oshiro said he opposes any increase in the state's general excise tax.
"I'd much rather look at tax credits," he said. "And reflecting what President Obama is doing on a national level, having people pay their fair share of taxes."
(Souki has said the House would not consider hiking the general excise tax.)
Oshiro added that he would not support any gambling or gaming proposals in contrast to Souki, who is a supporter of legalized gambling.
"On the finance side, I'd like to stay the course and see if we can support any of the governor's New Day initiatives," Oshiro said, adding that he'd like to address the state's massive unfunded liabilities for retiree health care and pension benefits as well as replenish the state's Rainy Day Fund.
House members will need to vote on a resolution Jan. 16, the opening day of the 2013 Legislature, to confirm a leader.
"The rules state very clearly that the House elects a speaker, not the Democrats elect, or the Republicans elect. The House of Representatives will elect their speaker," Souki said.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.