Millennial voters have many important choices in casting their ballots this year. Electing our next president and numerous other federal, state and local officials will shape our lives for the next decade.

However, voters on Oahu cannot ignore the 20 Honolulu City Charter amendments that are on the ballot this year.

Unlike positions where we can choose our leaders every election, the Honolulu City Charter is a document that dictates how our city will function for generations. Approved changes to the charter are binding. Our ability to reverse any decisions we may regret later is very limited since the charter is reviewed only once every 10 years.

Twenty proposed amendments to the Honolulu City and County Charter will have long-lasting ramification for all voters, but for millennials, the effects will continue for much longer than for older voters.
Twenty proposed amendments to the Honolulu City and County Charter will have ramifications for all voters. For millennials, the effects will continue much longer than for older voters. City and County of Honolulu

The amendments we decide to pass will carry us for generations and potentially in perpetuity. It’s most important that millennial and new voters make an informed decision and should not simply ignore them or categorically vote “NO” on each amendment as some may suggest.

My Experience As A Young Voter

As a first-time voter, I thought casting my ballot would be the easiest of tasks in early adulthood. I say this with a heavy heart, because adulthood brought countless arduous challenges that have changed my life completely within a year.

The list includes losing my dad from pancreatic cancer, completing freshman year at a competitive university in the mainland and stepping up as a community leader to preserve the Ka Iwi Coastline in perpetuity.

Even though I’m often busy with my college studies and activities at George Washington University in our nation’s capital, I still make it a habit to follow the news both nationally and in Hawaii. In fact, I’m an active member of a couple of local Hawaii campaigns, where I been able to help from afar.

Also, I’m glad to have maintained good relationships with many longtime friends and community members who share diverse political views through my other community service involvements during a polarizing election year.

It is unfortunate there is a general misperception that the proposed amendments are simply technical legal language that hold no significance to the average voter.

I initially anticipated that filling out my absentee ballot would only take five minutes. However, I became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of text on the second page that listed the 20 charter amendment proposals. What started as a simple task became a major research effort where I took five days before making my final decision on several amendments.

I realize that the Honolulu Charter is like the U.S. Constitution where what is decided now becomes permanent. In contrast to U.S. Supreme Court cases that are determined by nine individuals, it will take all Honolulu voters to make the final decision on the charter.

Throughout my research on the charter amendments, I became disappointed by the number of posts on social media and mass emails that recommend voters mark “No” on every proposal.

Thoughtlessly voting “Yes” or “No” on every amendment is a bad practice. Especially for millennial and young voters. Encouraging us to vote one way blindly sets an unwise precedent that could haunt us in future elections.

It is unfortunate there is a general misperception that the proposed amendments are simply technical legal language that hold no significance to the average voter. Quite the contrary. Amendments to the Honolulu Charter can shape the future of the city where even our elected officials have no choice but to abide by the public’s decision.

For example, Honolulu voters decided in 2008 that a steel-wheel rail transit system should be built. Eight years later, Honolulu remains divided on the future direction of the rail project. However, both mayoral candidates and a majority of voters have remained in favor of completing the project. Although the charter amendment question in 2008 did not determine the project’s route, the vote for rail has left a permanent mark by making rail transit the main transportation alternative for the future.

Although it is difficult to cover all 20 questions comprehensively, there are two proposed amendments on the ballot where I feel strongly that Honolulu voters need to make their voices heard clearly. Particularly, these important proposed amendments can potentially impact the millennial generation the most.

Vote Against Extending Term Limits 

Amendment 15 would allow all city elected officials to serve up to three consecutive four-year terms.

It is important to consider term limits for the city prosecutor, an office that does not have any term limits. However, extending terms for City Council members and the mayor will only allow the same leaders to remain in office and prevent new faces from entering public service.

Both the City Council and mayor are attractive elected offices, especially since city government is responsible for deciding important development and land issues. Many special interests fill campaign coffers.

In turn, the power of incumbency in city government is very strong. That’s why City Council incumbents can easily raise well over $100,000 for re-election and why millions have already been spent on the mayoral race this year.

Term limits ensure an equal playing field where office holders in city government are forced to leave after serving two terms. The democratic system promotes a change in elected officials that ensures the public office is owned by the people, not a single individual. Extending the limit to three terms can hinder potential future office holders from running and encourage incumbents to build their own personal fiefdoms.

Also, it is important to note that the current limit is two entire consecutive four-year terms. This means that a term-limited incumbent can easily return to their seat after a brief hiatus and that a term filled in a special election does not apply toward an officer holder’s limit. In fact, two of the current City Council members won their seats in a special election where their years of service while filling a vacancy do not count toward their term limits.

Let’s keep the term limits for city elected officials to a maximum of eight years to ensure a continuous change in Honolulu’s leadership.

Do Not Limit Affordable Rental Housing

The most important issue facing millennials in Honolulu today is the cost of living. Among all living expenses, housing in Honolulu is the most expensive. The current housing market is out of the price range for young adults entering the workforce from college or starting a family.

If Honolulu is going to retain its future working force, providing adequate, affordable housing is key.

On the surface, Amendment 5 attempts to resolve the lack of affordable housing issue. If passed, the amendment enables the city’s Affordable Housing Fund to develop housing for qualifying individuals earning 60 percent or less of the median household income. This is a positive step, as the current qualifying threshold household income is 50 percent.

However, the second part of the question states, “…provided that the housing remains affordable for at least 60 years?” The current charter stipulates that all housing developed by Honolulu’s Affordable Housing Fund must remain affordable in “perpetuity.” Giving city-developed affordable housing a sunshine date of 60 years would hurt Honolulu’s millennials in the long term.

Sixty years may only cover a single household tenant for a lifetime and will not be passed on to the next generation. The Affordable Housing Fund would be forced to continue developing new housing for every generation while previous developments would enter the open market at full value after 60 years.

Honolulu voters should vote “No” on Amendment 5 because the 60-year affordability sunshine date will become a problem for millennials in the long term future.

Without any doubt, Honolulu voters and millennials face many important decisions this year in the voting. Long-term foresight at the voting booth cannot be lost, especially when deciding on the twenty proposed amendments to the Honolulu City Charter that could make a lasting difference for the city.

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About the Author

  • Kendrick Chang
    Kendrick Chang is a senior at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and grew up in East Oahu. At GWU, he is a political communication major in the School of Media and Public Affairs and president of the Hawaii Club. He is also a youth advisor for the Livable Hawaii Kai Hui and a member of the Save Ka Iwi Coalition and the Hawaii Kai Lions Club.