HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-Moanalua, Aiea, Kalihi Valley) became the State Senate President as the Senate reorganized Friday, yet another political change that came in the wake of U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye's death last week.
The Senate's former vice president, Kim had become acting president Thursday after Senate President Shan Tsutsui (D-Kahului, Wailuku) took the lieutenant governor's position, following the succession set up by state law for vacancies in office. On Wednesday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie selected former Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz to replace the late Dan Inouye in the U.S. Senate.
"Our goal is to have the least amount of disruption as possible," said Kim, who will preside during the 27th Hawaii State Legislature which convenes Jan. 16. "I've worked quite closely with the Senate president as the vice president and so this transition is going to be quite seamless."
"We're ready to go. We start our budget hearings early next week and I think that the Senate is in good shape," Kim said, noting that budget briefings begin Jan. 3. "I've worked quite closely with the Senate president as the vice president and so this transition is going to be quite seamless."
As chair of the Senate's accountability committee, Kim presided over widely watched special briefings into the University of Hawaii this fall following the failed Stevie Wonder concert.
Asked if she'll give up those types of investigative efforts, she said, "I'm sure I'll be relinquishing some of it, but I am a hands-on kind of person. And as Senate president, and as I told some of my colleagues, I will be more hands-on, but at the same time I represent all the members of the Senate and committee chairs and certainly cognizant of what the will of the majority would like to be."
She said senators will still be focusing on UH's budget and policies in the next session.
"I believe that there is consensus in the Senate that we need to take a look at the university, we need to look at accountability. We need to look at efficiencies. And that's something that I've always championed," Kim said.
First elected to the State House 30 years ago, Kim served 15 years on the Honolulu City Council and served the last 12 years in State Senate.
Meanwhile, Tsutsui's staff is packing boxes in his old senate president's office on the 4th floor of the State Capitol to move one floor up to the LG's office.
"The goal is we'll try to get all our things up there by the end of the week, because we understand the legislature's up against a short time clock," Tsutsui said. "Opening day is just two and a half weeks away. And so we want to be sure that we can accommodate them as best as possible."
State Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran (D- Kahului-Wailuku) is one of Tsutsui's possible replacements for the Kahului-Wailuku State Senate seat. Keith-Agaran said Friday he was talking over the possibility with his wife and family before deciding to apply for the post. If he is tapped for the Senate post, there would be yet another vacancy for his House seat.
A panel of Maui Democrats will review applications for the Senate position and then recommend three people to Abercrombie, who will choose Tsutsui's successor.
State Rep. Joe Souki (D-Wailuku, Waihee, Waiehu), who's running to become House speaker when the Legislature convenes in a few weeks, said Friday he will not apply for the senate vacancy.
"I made a commitment to running for House speaker," Souki told Hawaii News Now Friday.
Keith-Agaran would have served as majority leader under Souki's leadership, so if Keith-Agaran moves to the Senate, Souki would lose a supporter and a key lieutenant, should Souki emerge as House Speaker. State Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Wahiawa, Whitmore Village) also plans to run for House Speaker.
Kim will earn $53,773 as Senate president, a $7,500 raise that is awarded to the Senate president and the House speaker. Tsutsui's salary will more than double, going from $53,773 to $114,420 as LG.
State Sen. Ron Kouchi (D-Kauai, Niihau) becomes the Senate's vice president, moving into the position formerly held by Kim. Committee chairs will remain that same as they were under Tsutsui's leadership, with State Sen. David Ige (D-Pearl City, Waimalu) continuing to chair the powerful Ways and Means committee that oversees state finances.
"A lot of us have had a number of years in a previous role. And I it will be an exciting thing for everybody, and, I think, a good thing for the state," Tsutsui said.
He said Friday he was still adjusting to all the changes and trying to celebrate his daughter's fifth birthday while juggling moving boxes and new duties.
"It's been a lot, and something which two weeks ago would not even have entered into my mind as an option. So much so that a couple of days ago I was working on the opening day speech. So, a lot has happened just in the last 24 hours," Tsutsui said.