Stacking the Deck

Since October 2013, liberal Democrats have been quietly changing the make-up of the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) to eliminate opposition on the powerful committee.  The previous balance between socially-liberal and conservative members ensured that same-sex marriage (HB1109) was never even granted a hearing during the 2013 legislative session.  Passage of same-sex marriage only became possible after stacking the deck at the beginning of the 2013 special session before hearing SB1.

Here is how it happened:

1) Rep. Rida Cabanilla, (an opponent of same-sex marriage) the conservative representative from Ewa Beach was replaced on the House Judiciary Committee by then Rep. Denny Coffman, a known supporter of same-sex marriage.  When the House of Representatives gavelled in for the 2013 special session, this roster change was one of the first orders of business.  Richard Borreca (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Nov 1, 2013) wrote:

“Cabanilla lost her position on Judiciary, and House leaders didn’t want [Rep. Karen] Awana on Judiciary because she is expected to vote against the same-sex bill, so they put in Rep. Denny Coffman, expected to be a safe “yes” vote.”

2) Rep. Cynthia Theilen survived another roster change after House Republicans attempted to change their representation on the committee to better reflect Republican opposition to same-sex marriage.  House Minority Leader Aaron spoke in opposition of Theilen’s replacement.  In the same article, Richard Borreca continue:

So (Rep. Bob) McDermott, the most vocal gay marriage opponent in the House, knew he might leverage the committee vote if he could get Thielen off Judiciary, even if it meant dynamiting the coalition [between liberal Democrats and Republicans] to do so.  The tactic didn’t work, because Souki, along with House leaders Reps. Scott Saiki and Sylvia Luke, had a strategy already mapped out.

Not content with the liberal majority on the committee, liberal Democrats continued to meddle with the committee’s membership to secure and advance the liberal/progressive agenda.

3) After the 2013 special session, Rep. Denny Coffman retired from the House of Representatives and was replaced by Rep. Richard Creagan – the latter who was selected from a list of names by Governor Abercrombie himself.  In the game of political patronage, it is safe to assume that this replacement will preserve the liberal majority on the House Judiciary Committee.

4) Having enough votes on the Judiciary committee to pass same sex marriage was not enough for liberal House Democrats and another substitution (via HR2) was made on the committee with the removal of Rep. Mele Carroll (a ‘no’ vote on same-sex marriage, see page 12) and her replacement by Rep. Mark Nakashima (a ‘yes’ vote to SB1).

SB1 (legalizing same-sex marriage in the State of Hawaii) passed the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) with a vote of 8-5.  Had Cabanilla been appropriately replaced by outgoing Majority Floor Leader Karen Awana, and had liberal Democrats not intervened in Republican politics, the vote would have been 6-7, killing SB1.

A quick head count gives liberal Democrats (with the support of a Republican) a five vote advantage over the four remaining committee conservatives.  With opposition on the committee silenced, it will be much easier for the Republican-backed liberal Democrats to advance their agenda that includes the legalization of marijuana, the erosion of religious freedoms and legalized gambling.

In fairness, the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee did some window dressing of its own.  The original committee line-up would have passed SB1 during the 2013 Special Session by a 3-2 vote.  To avoid potential embarrassment, the committee added two members to give the image of strong support for same-sex marriage and other items on the liberal/progressive agenda.  Derrick DePledge of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported in the Political Radar blog:

The two new members who have been appointed to Judiciary improve the vote count for same-sex marriage.  Hee, Shimabukuro and Ihara have said they favor same-sex marriage, while Gabbard and Slom are opposed.  By adding Galuteria and Solomon, who both favor same-sex marriage, the count jumps from 3 to 2 to 5 to 2.