By AUDREY McAVOY
HONOLULU — House Speaker Calvin Say said Thursday he plans to step down from his leadership post on the first day of Hawaii’s new legislative session and is endorsing House Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro to succeed him.
Say, who has served 14 years as speaker, said he would not seek another term when House members pick a new leader in mid-January.
The announcement comes after former House Speaker Joe Souki, D-Waihee-Wailuku, said last month that he has the votes to reclaim his post.
“I did a lot of soul-searching at this point,” Say, 60, told reporters gathered in his office for a news conference. “It’s come to my conclusion that it is the best time on behalf of the majority caucus, on behalf of the Democratic Party, on behalf of the people of the state of Hawaii, that I do step down and then convey the mantle or the torch to the finance chair.”
A representative needs the backing of 26 out of 51 House members to win the speakership. Souki, 79, said last month he has the support of 23 Democrats and seven Republicans. Say, D-St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise, had the support of 21 members, but needed five more.
Oshiro, who accompanied Say to the news conference, said the 21 Democrats who supported Say will back him. The 53-year-old plans to work on winning support of Democrats currently backing Souki.
Oshiro believes some of them are concerned about forming a coalition with Republicans.
“I think it sets a terrible precedent. I think they’re all fearful of what it means in practical terms of how they can pass legislation that serves the interest of the state of Hawaii,” Oshiro said.
Oshiro, D-Wahiawa, said he’s opposed to legalizing any form of gambling and raising the general excise tax, unlike Souki.
Say said the House’s 44 Democrats should work together as a unified group.
“No matter what happens, I will have to move out. But I do not want our Democratic caucus to be working with the Republican caucus,” he said.
Souki, who was speaker for six years before Say took over in the late 1990s, said he’s running for the office again because he believes Say has been in the position a long time. He said it’s time for Say to make way for new leaders.
“Mostly I want to act as a catalyst for change. I’m going to be in only a relatively short time, because naturally, I’m not a young kid,” Souki said. “My role is to see that change come about, to give younger people new opportunities to rise within the structure.”
Most of the people supporting him — the so-called “dissidents” — are young, he said.
“They’re all young and they look at their grandfather to help them get to where they want to get,” Souki said. “I’m very impressed with them.”
Souki said he wasn’t opposed to raising the general excise tax and allowing gambling because state agencies are still operating below capacity after the most recent recession and the state needs more revenue.
Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen countered that Say’s close confidants — including Oshiro — negotiated with Republicans two years ago to win their support for his re-election as speaker.
“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. It is time to govern and stop politicking,” Thielen said in a statement emailed to media.