Conventional wisdom tells us that most everything of consequence regarding who runs Hawaii is settled in the primary, when voters decide which Democrats will be coronated come fall.
Not this year.
Sure, there are intriguing races for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress that will pretty much be decided in the Democratic primary Aug. 11.
But the November general election ballot provides a rare opportunity to make changes of far more consequence than who holds top offices for the next four years.
And you better believe the holders of entrenched power in Hawaii are going to do everything they can to convince you that you don’t want to shake things up by voting to hold a state constitutional convention.
It’s a chance that comes along once a decade, and voters haven’t authorized a con con since 1978. Civil Beat’s early polling showed strong support for approving another one, and for good reason.
Consider these changes in state government that the Legislature would probably never allow the public to vote on, but that con con delegates could send to a future ballot:
Term limits for state legislators.
A requirement that the Legislature abide by the Sunshine Law that it is currently exempted from, which would put a crimp in the secret meetings and backroom deals that are so prevalent at the Capitol.
Establishment of a statewide initiative process so that when the Legislature holds issues hostage for years on end, we the people have another way to place them on the ballot.
Those are just some of the possibilities. The con con could be the forum for discussion of establishing a state lottery, legalizing recreational use of marijuana and even adopting affordable housing standards that actually have teeth in them.
Anything could be on the table, which is both the beauty of a con con and the source of much consternation about opening Pandora’s box.
Some people are saying Hawaii already has a strong constitution and we should leave well enough alone. Native Hawaiians are particularly concerned that some of the advances they made in the 1978 con con — such as establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs — could be reversed this time around.
While it’s true that con con delegates could do more harm than good, remember that any constitutional amendments they propose must still be approved by voters.
And then there is this disingenuous argument against a con con: Special interests with big bucks could attempt to co-opt the process to push their own agendas.
Sounds a lot like the dance of legislators and lobbyists that currently controls state government, no?
There’s really only one legitimate reason to vote “no,” and that is satisfaction with the current power structure in which the Legislature and the governor hold all the cards.
The November ballot question is only the first step in the con con process. If it’s approved, then the Legislature decides how and when to conduct a delegate election. State law already limits the amount of campaign contributions from non-Hawaii residents. If there is concern about undue influence of outside money in a con con, the Legislature can address that issue in the enabling legislation.
But the November vote will be the last step in the process if voters blow this opportunity.
There’s really only one legitimate reason to vote “no,” and that is satisfaction with the current power structure in which the Legislature and the governor hold all the cards. It’s an environment where causes that have widespread public support can die in backroom deals with no explanation and no public vote. And where all-powerful legislators can serve endlessly, their re-elections practically guaranteed by the financial support of special interests.
That’s the status quo that will likely be fiercely defended between now and Nov. 6. The first evidence of the coming campaign against a con con could come as soon as Aug. 1, the next deadline for political action committees to report their transactions to the state Campaign Spending Commission.
Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for a sign of organized support for a con con from good-government organizations such as Common Cause.
Is Hawaii ready to hold a conversation of consequence about how its government works?
That’s the only question about a con con that voters need to answer in November.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.