Does Hawaii Need a Con Con?
As part of the general election this November, Hawaii voters will decide whether to hold a constitutional convention to revise the state constitution. Hawaii has not had a constitutional convention since 1978; if approved, the next would be held in 2010. Should our state hold a Con Con?
James R. "Duke" Aiona Jr.
The state constitution must evolve with the times. That is why the founders of our state recognized the importance of maintaining a living, evolving constitution when they incorporated a provision that calls for a constitutional convention every 10 years. After 30 years since our last Con Con, it is time to take a fresh look at modernizing the constitution.
A constitutional convention, by its very nature, takes our democracy back to the people. I believe our citizens are best suited to decide the future of our state.
Out of the 102 publicly elected delegates in our last constitutional convention, only seven were public officials. That is civic involvement at its finest.
Our citizens will have the opportunity to pass sunshine laws to hold state government accountable, put forward public initiatives and referendums to bypass a political system under the influence of special interests and give local communities say over the quality of their children’s education and the type of services they receive. Strengthening environmental safeguards, protecting agricultural lands, advancing energy independence and term limits are all within reach of our citizens—if they vote in favor of a Con Con.
I led an 11-member, nonpartisan task force, which included Sen. Hooser, to study the cost of convening a constitutional convention and provide the public with credible and accurate information in advance of its decision. According to the final report, our citizens can hold a fair, effective and inclusive convention for under $10 million. I encourage all of our residents to go to hawaii.gov/ltgov/concon to see the report for themselves.
I believe our citizens want to have a say in their future. In November, our citizens have a choice: maintain the status quo or vote for real change. We must not fear ourselves. I trust our citizens will make the right decision, and vote in favor of a constitutional convention.
Sen. Gary L. Hooser
Majority Leader, 7th Senatorial District
Constitutions are written as enduring documents reflecting the core values of the society that they are intended to govern. They serve as the stable and secure foundations upon which our laws are built. Given our constitution’s central role in establishing and preserving the functions of our government, changes should be made rarely and with great caution. Amendments that the community sees as truly essential can be proposed relatively easily through an established legislative process.
The question before us, then, is whether Hawaii’s constitution is in need of a major overhaul. Current conditions do not warrant such broad changes; I have yet to hear from anyone who can point to a spectrum of issues that calls for deep and immediate action at the constitutional level. Nor does our constitution deserve the wholesale assault that is sure to come should a constitutional convention be convened.
The conservative voices clamoring loudest for a constitutional convention are those seeking not to expand the rights and protections we hold as fundamental expressions of our values, but rather to diminish them. Under the guise of free enterprise, well-financed special interests will seek to limit or eliminate many of those provisions we view as central to our way of life, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Land Use Commission.
In a time when our state budget encounters increasing economic pressures and our schools and health systems are facing significant cutbacks, it makes no sense to spend millions of dollars on a constitutional convention when there is no pressing need. Those issues most in need of attention in our state—healthcare, education, housing, traffic and crime—are more likely to benefit from additional funding than from constitutional amendments.
We don’t need a constitutional convention. We can put the money one would cost to better uses. And we run too great a risk of our state constitution suffering lasting damage at the hands of special interests. We should vote “no” on Con Con.