Hawaii State Senate Minority Leader | Small Business Owner
By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor
Sen. Sam Slom could be a lonely man as the only Republican in Hawaii’s 25-member Senate, but he doesn’t have time for that.
The Senate minority leader sits on all 16 permanent committees, every ad hoc committee and every investigating committee. Slom said even though he’s a party of one, his position is no joke.
“I represent the 48-49 percent of people that voted for either a certain person or a certain philosophy that without a voice like mine, they would not be heard at all,” he said. “I take that very seriously. It’s not really about me, it’s about all these other folks who feel more and more disenfranchised.”
The 72-year-old Slom has been in the Hawaii Senate for 19 years, yet becoming a politician was one of the last things on his mind.
“For 25 years, people were trying to get me to run for office,” he said. “I always said no, not me, not ever. Then I learned when you get older, you don’t say never. I ran in ’96. It was the first time I ran for public office.
“Of course, the conventional wisdom was, ‘Well, why don’t you start out with the city council, then run for the house, then maybe run for the senate.’ I said no. The only reason I’m agreeing to run is we had a government at that time that I thought was out of control. We actually had people who went to jail from the legislature. We had an arrogance and an aloofness that is, you know, bred from one-party rule.”
The Hawaii Senate has been under Democratic control since 1962, Slom said. Since 2010, he’s been the only Republican in the Senate. He proudly proclaims that he holds “every NCAA indoor and outdoor record of voting ‘No’ on bills.” But that distinction means Slom also has to make a special effort to maintain good relationships with other legislators.
“I think it’s important, as the cliché goes, to be able to disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “I try to use humor and I always base the vote on factual information. It’s just like a lobbyist. A good lobbyist, … they’ve got to have actual and absolute factual information. They can’t puff anything up, they can’t give you misinformation, because once they do, they’re finished.”
Slom said good leaders, first of all, show up for each session. In the more than 1,100 floor sessions that have been held since he was first elected, Slom said he’s only missed one and that was because he was doing the eulogy for his then father-in-law.
Good leaders also take responsibility for their actions, Slom said.
“You can’t blame your legislative aid or your office manager or anybody else” when something goes wrong, he said. “Because at the end of the day, my name is on the door. My reputation is on the line.”
Slom said bad leadership often happens when policymakers forget who they represent.
“I think it (the biggest threat to good leadership) is arrogance and power,” he said. “There have been some people—and I think there may be some people now—that take themselves too seriously and really want to separate themselves from the public they’re supposed to represent. …They get bothered by people that have what they may consider inconsequential testimonies. I’ve also seen chairmen of committees berate testifiers, personally attack them, put their agenda before the bill or the issue.
“When I signed up for this, nobody twisted my arm. My idea is I’m a public servant.”
After nearly two decades in the Senate, Slom still doesn’t call himself a politician.
“I tell people I’m not in politics now,” he said. “I’m a business owner, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a constitutionalist, I’m a taxpayer, a father. The last thing on my list is politician.
“I told people when I first decided to run that I’d be exactly the same person they knew personally and in business and publicly. That’s all I know how to be. That’s what my parents taught me to be and that was it. I’ve tried to jealously guard that over what’s now been 19 years. It blows my mind that it’s been 19 years.”