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Hawaii Legislature begins, leadership chosen

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HONOLULU (AP) — Senators and representatives were sworn-in and new leadership was chosen in both houses Wednesday as the 2013 Hawaii legislative session got under way.

With the support of a handful of Republicans, Rep. Joseph Souki was elected House speaker, a post he previously held in the 1990s. The Waihee-Wailuku Democrat replaced Rep. Calvin Say, who announced last month he wouldn't run again for the leadership post.

Say had picked fellow Democratic Rep. Marcus Oshiro to succeed him as speaker, but Oshiro's candidacy was rejected in a voice vote.

Rep. Sharon Har was among those who didn't support Souki, saying that a vote for him would be a vote for the principles of "vengeance and vindictiveness" given his past leadership style.

Souki told reporters he doesn't think that his controversial rise to leadership would affect the rest of the session, adding that he has made peace with opponents.

In the Democratic-led state Senate, Donna Mercado Kim was elected president. She succeeded Shan Tsutsui, who became lieutenant governor last month.

Kim told fellow senators she wouldn't support any tax increases. Souki also spoke about taxes, saying he wants to rethink tax credits and decrease taxes.

Saiki told reporters after the session that the change in House leadership came about partly because of how environmental issues were handled over the past two years.

Earlier, as the session convened, a group of protesters gathered outside the Senate and House floors to chant, sing and wave signs. Many demonstrators urged lawmakers to support local agriculture and criticized the management of public lands.

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, said voters can expect sweeping legislation to help Hawaii rely less on imports and more on local foods. That shift won't be easy, Galuteria told The Associated Press.

"Farming is not sexy," he said.

More than 85 percent of food in Hawaii comes from out-of-state, according to a state report published in October.

The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism found Hawaii consumers spent about $3.1 billion every two years on imported food. Replacing 10 percent of imported food with local food would add more than $300 million to Hawaii's economy every two years, the report said.

Saiki said the House also will address the management of public lands and various social issues. "We will be taking a hard look at the (Public Land Development Corp.)," he said.

The state agency was established in 2011 to develop state lands through public-private partnerships. Environmental groups and Native Hawaiian advocates have criticized the agency for its power to ignore county zoning rules.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii has control of both the state House and Senate. The party has dominated Hawaii politics since statehood.

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