In wake of rail battle, Rep. Joe Souki resigns as speaker of state House

In wake of rail battle, Rep. Joe Souki resigns as speaker of state House
Published: May. 4, 2017 at 4:25 PM HST|Updated: May. 4, 2017 at 6:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Rep. Joseph Souki has resigned as speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives.

Souki, 84, has held the post since 2013. He also served as Speaker of the House between 1993 and 1999.

As the House and Senate continued to battle over a funding agreement for the Honolulu rail transit project, a resolution to replace Souki as speaker was introduced on the House floor Thursday.

State Rep. Scott Saiki was selected as the new House speaker.

Saiki says the rail issue was not a factor in removing Souki. He believes the demographics of the House have changed in recent years and says members have been calling for new leadership.

"The age ranges, the experiences, and the backgrounds are very diverse and I think the general feeling was that it was time for new leadership in the House," said Saiki.

Those who were against the leadership change said the timing was inappropriate and that they wanted more time to discuss who their new leader would be.

"What we do on this floor should be honorable. To choose the last day to literally cut off an 84-year old man --  I'm not sure that's the honorable thing to do," said State Rep. Gene Ward, (R) Hawaii Kai.

"To move forward with this resolution could have been done at some other appropriate time out of respect," said State Rep. Sharon Har, (D) Kapolei, Makakilo.

In a letter to House members outlining his resignation, Souki listed failed negotiations over rail funding as one of his "disappointments" during the most recent legislative session.

"With the dynamics in this legislature, we were also unable to agree with the Senate on funding to complete Honolulu's rail system," Souki said. "I regret that on these issues, we were not able to do the work of the people."

While he will continue to serve as a state representative, Souki's resignation as speaker is effective immediately.

Souki's resignation marks the second major legislative change at the state Capitol over the last several days.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Jill Tokuda was removed as chairwoman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee after her proposal for rail funding was rejected by most senators. During interviews with reporters on Wednesday, Tokuda stood by her decision not to extend the rail funding surcharge.

"We have to demand answers from HART and the from the city and that when we look to extend, this is on the backs of our taxpayers," she said.

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