Is A ConCon Worth The Effort?

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 04, 2008
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On Nov. 4, 2008, Hawaii’s voters will decide whether to convene a constitutional convention.

The ConCon is an organized gathering of publicly elected delegates for the purpose of reviewing and putting forth revisions to our existing state Constitution. Any proposals must then be voted on for ratification by the public electorate during the next general election. Anyone can run except the governor and lieutenant governor.

The last ConCon was held 30 years ago. I was assigned to cover it and was amazed how exciting the political gathering was. A lot of the delegates wore long-sleeved Aloha shirts back then, and women in attendance were smartly dressed. There was an abundance of political passion at every meeting, especially from newcomers John Waihee and Frenchy DeSoto. Their contributions led to one of the most-significant initiatives with the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and the adoption of the Hawaiian language as our official state language.

It is anyone’s guess whether or not the public will endorse another ConCon. The reason is simple. No one knows what specific issues will be addressed. When the smoke cleared after the last one, a lot of political pundits predicted that the ConCon had gone too far in revising the constitution. There is a lot of concern, especially at the state Capitol, that widespread attention to many esoteric issues could upset the status quo the Democrat-controlled Legislature now enjoys.

Some of the issues include public initiative and referendum, creating local school boards and protection of agricultural lands, to name a few. Surely, there will be many more; however, there’s an old saying in politics, “No one gives up power without a fight!” It looks like that’s what’s brewing at the state Capitol. The people who are in power right now have absolutely no reason to take a chance with a ConCon that might do just that. Said another way, expect the powers-that-be to campaign against holding a ConCon 2.

The last time the voters of Hawaii were asked to decide on the prospect of holding a ConCon was Nov. 3, 1998. In that election, 59 percent of Hawaii’s voters opted not to convene. It’s interesting to note that in November 1996, just two years earlier, Hawaii voters cast more “yes” votes than “no” votes in response to the ConCon question. The outcome was challenged by Hawaii’s most powerful union combine, the Hawaii state AFL-CIO. In a stunning decision, the high court ruled that blank ballots must be counted as “no” votes. Immediately following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Hawaii state Legislature amended the law to conform to the higher court’s decision. If you want to check for yourself, go to HRS Section 11-151 (3). It is still the law and reads as follows: “(3) If a contest or question requires a majority of the votes for passage, any blank, spoiled, or invalid ballot shall not be tal-lied for passage or as votes cast except that such ballots shall be counted as votes cast ratification of a constitutional amendment or a question for a constitutional convention.”

Assuming the need for a ConCon is approved by the voters, the constitution requires that the convention convene at least five months prior to the 2010 general election. Once the Legislature decides on the number of delegates to a convention, as well as funding and facilities, a special election would probably be necessary in order to elect the constitutional delegates.

Many of the state’s power brokers are already gearing up for the possibility of the Republicans getting the question before the voting public. They also are putting together special coalitions and packages of proposals to enhance their positions and, as hard as it is to believe, they also have plans to convince the voters that there are not sufficient funds available or adequate facilities to stage a worthwhile ConCon. In other words, it’s not worth the effort.

It’s worth mentioning that, when dealing with its own problems, the Democratic Party appears to be made up of the most extreme political conservatives, much more so than the Republicans. But when dealing with other people’s problems, the Democrats become the most extreme liberals.

In any case, if you decide not to support a ConCon, remember that if you don’t understand the proposition in question on the ballot, don’t leave the space on your ballot blank - it means you don’t care one way or another what happens in Hawaii.

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