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L: The Distr. 20 candidate with her husband, Michael Christopher, Ph.D. R: Calvin Say
Image: L: ROBERT MAIKAI UHENE R: COURTESY CALVIN SAY

The Incumbent: Calvin Say

As Speaker of the House, Calvin Say is one of the state’s most powerful politicians. He’s been representing District 20 since 1976, and says he was initially motivated to run “because of my desire to serve the public and improve my community and the State. The early 1970s was a time of idealism for young people. Many of us preferred to enter public service, not make money in private business.” In addition to his legislative duties, Say is president of Kotake Shokai, a company started by his father-in-law that imports and wholesales goods from China and Japan. He participated in the following written interview with the Weekly.


Some Hawaii citizens and the Neighbor Island County Councils are calling for the repeal of Act 55, which you supported. Given their concerns do you think the law needs to be repealed or revised?

My first preference is to maintain the PLDC law unamended for now. The PLDC has not yet adopted administrative rules or the public land optimization strategic plan as required by the law. It has not yet proposed any specific project. Thus, I feel that call for the repeal or amendment of the PLDC law is premature.

For now, the PLDC should be given an opportunity to operate and prove its worth. At the least, the PLDC should be given the opportunity to adopt its rules and prepare its strategic plan. The PLDC has the potential for managing, coordinating, or expediting public projects in a responsible, cost-effective, and transparent manner that may be acceptable to the community. Hawaii needs more public-private partnerships to develop public projects in these times of scarce public funds.

Opponents have been very vocal against the broad exemption authority granted to the PLDC (which does not include an exemption from the environmental review process or special management area law). I am confident that the PLDC has taken notice of the opposition and, consequently, will not abuse the exemption authority. I believe the PLDC will be sensitive to public sentiment. In fact, the PLDC has already displayed this sensitivity by its intention to hold another public hearing on its rules. The PLDC knows that foisting rules or any project upon the public over extreme opposition will be counterproductive and ultimately self-defeating.

Nevertheless, the PLDC should be monitored. If, despite good intentions, the PLDC adopts insensitive administrative rules or an inappropriate strategic plan, abuses its authority, or continues to receive vehement, justified opposition, then I will be open to amending or repealing the enabling law.

The Legislature always will have the opportunity to reject an unpopular PLDC project by passage of a law superseding the PLDC’s approval of the project. This was the action taken to reject the residential towers in Kakaako Makai.

Your opponent, Keiko Bonk, has criticized your PAC as catering to special interests and exerting inappropriate influence over at least 28 lawmakers who receive contributions from it.

Your question refers to the Citizens for Responsive Government (CRG), a political action committee that I helped form. The purpose of CRG is to help elect Democrats to the House of Representatives. It was formed to counter the Republican efforts in the early Lingle years, when they made major gains in the House membership. CRG is not a “super PAC” permitted to take unlimited contributions from a corporation or person.

I do not support super PACs. During this election, I am being opposed by a super PAC with much of its funding coming from the mainland. Ironically, this super PAC is supporting my opponent, who professes to be critical of the present campaign contribution system. [Asked for comment, Bonk replied that she received no corporate or PAC donations; she has been given a non-monetary endorsement by the Progressive PAC of the Hawaii Democratic Party. Say did not respond to a request that he name the super PAC he references.]

Is it true that you have pledged to bring back the so-called “Dirty Dozen” bills that weren’t passed during the last session? And if so, why?

I do not know the bills to which you refer.

During the 2012 session, the House did support “economy/job promotion” bills that intended to balance economic revitalization/job growth with environmental protection.

The major one was SB 755. The bill focused on authorizing the Governor to temporarily exempt from the environmental review process only state projects which would probably have minimal or no significant environmental effects. The House’s objective was to accelerate state projects that probably would not have significant environmental effects. Such projects would have generated jobs, infused money for circulation in Hawaii, and resulted in needed public facilities. The House did not propose to exempt county projects, such as the rail system. The House also did not propose to exempt private development.

What do you see as the top three issues facing the Legislature in the next session?

First, the economic recovery and job growth in Hawaii need to be maintained. The economy of Hawaii, like that of the United States, is projected to grow only gradually in the near future. The Legislature must focus on maintaining the recovery to counter the possible negative impacts of the European debt crisis, China and Japan economic slowdowns, Mideast unrest, and United States “fiscal cliff.”

We need to pass a responsible and balanced state budget that maintains basic public health, safety, and education services without a general excise or other broad-based tax increase. My hope is that State revenue collection continue to improve so that appropriations may be made for needed legislative priorities and Governor Abercrombie’s New Day initiatives.

My third reason for seeking re-election is to address the “unfunded liability” problem of the public employees’ health fund. If the “unfunded liability” is not controlled, more and more public funds will have to be expended for public employees’ health insurance, resulting in less and less public funds available for other public programs. Or, taxes will have to be increased. I emphasize that any solution should not negatively impact present state and county retirees.

How does your long tenure, and your position as Speaker, benefit District 20? How would you respond to critics who say 36 years is long enough?

My experience as a legislator is an attribute. Due to my past service, I have received a well-rounded education about the workings of government, business, labor and other issues and, perhaps more importantly, the behavior of people. In this nascent economic recovery, the stability that comes from experience is important.

In addition to experience, I still retain my enthusiasm, good intentions and willingness to be creative.

I have refrained from using my position as Speaker to gain extra benefit for District 20. Concerning capital improvement project or program funding for the District, I have submitted my requests to the Finance Committee Chair in accordance with procedures applicable to other House members. I try to lead by setting a good example. Using the Speakership for extra benefit would be contrary to this principle.

Is there anything else you wish to add?

I support the Rail project. It is a transportation alternative to accommodate the growth of the second city and more housing there. Increasing the housing supply is necessary to moderate housing prices. The Rail project also is important for improving the mobility of residents of existing communities within the service corridor, especially the elderly and less fortunate who cannot afford to drive.

I ask your readers to support all Democrat candidates from President Obama on down. In general, the Democrats are more responsible, balanced and reasonable than the opposition on the economy, budget, taxation, environment and social issues.