Over the past month or so I have been participating in an informal “Constitutional Convention Study Group.” The group is diverse, voluntary, and independent.

None of the 16 participants are paid. Some of the thinking will be written up later for public education to be published in Civil Beat.

This “Con-Con Salon” got me thinking: What exactly are governments for, and what are they supposed to do?

The Oxford English Dictionary offers this: A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, often a state. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press. November 2010.)

Regardless of the form of government, there is usually some means of identifying how that state is to operate. In modern governments, the philosophy and aspirations of that state are spelled out in a constitution.

Capitol building.
If state leaders don’t do what the people want, is it time for a constitutional convention? Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

A constitution can be defined as a document outlining the framework for how a government is organized and the extent of its authority. There are other constitutions that are not codified but contain numerous acts of the legislature or other legal precedents.

In the United States, our government is defined by a constitution that establishes the mechanisms for the functioning of how laws are made, who makes the laws, who has the right to vote, who can hold office, how laws are challenged and numerous other things that make our society run. We are a democratic republic whereby the people elect representatives to perform the functions as set by the constitution. In our form of democracy, we rely on the competence and morals of those we elect to enact legislation that responds to the needs of the people and the state.

Coming To The 2018 Ballot

Democracies depend on the rule of law. Democracies also require maintenance.

Forty-three states have provisions for convening constitutional conventions. Hawaii is one of them. As written in the state constitution, a provision for holding a constitutional convention every 10 years must be put on the ballot for endorsement or rejection by the voting public.

Democracies depend on the rule of law. Democracies also require maintenance.

The purpose of a constitutional convention is to convene a duly elected group of delegates for the purpose of revising or amending the state constitution. The question then becomes whether or not we need a constitutional convention.

The Civil Beat survey posted in December of last year, indicated a clear majority of those polled would like to see a constitutional convention convened. The debate has begun as to whether or not one should be convened.

The results of the survey may be a reaction to a perceived malaise that has struck not just our state government but many other state and national governments worldwide. People are frustrated. But a constitutional convention should not be viewed as an alternative legislature. Its purpose is to focus on what is needed and provide a vision for how government can function in the future.

As responsible citizens, it is our duty to become informed of this coming ballot measure before we enter the polling booth. Our present Hawaii constitution provides this mechanism every 10 years. It is up to us to decide whether we need to convene a constitutional convention at this time. We should remember that unless the Legislature acts on it before, it will be another decade before citizens have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether we need one or not.

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