The question of whether to have a constitutional convention for the near future is settled, and the general consensus is we dodged a bullet. After some admittedly shallow contemplation I couldn’t help but wonder, Who is holding the gun?

Don’t get me wrong, with the cold weather I enjoy sitting on my hands as a means of temperature regulation, but I don’t think that doing so for the next 10 years is a great strategy.

I’m not a public planner or community organizer by any means, but I’d like to float a year-by-year proposal as to what we might be do with all this time on our hands to prepare for the next time the ConCon ballot question returns.

ConAm Ballot Hawaii vote.

The ConCon question on the 2018 ballot. It could return again over the next decade. Are we ready?

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Year 1: Organization and Orientation. Organize a true working group, meaning they will have to work, to represent specific sectors of the public. Politicians, if they’d like to participate, could pass a resolution to form a task force or other entity that will ease access to state bureaucracy, though this is not necessary. Representation could include environmentalists, business, attorneys, Native Hawaiian groups, elected and unelected officials, etc.

The one caveat is that for every representative of a “sector,” there must be one representative of the public, an average Iokepa. After convening, there must be orientation. The Legislative Reference Bureau, or attorneys and professors that specialize in the Hawaii state constitution, should be tapped to provide this orientation.

Year 2, 3 and 4: Research. What are the issues that can actually be solved by a ConCon, and what issues are most important to constituents? A great place to start researching appropriate topics would be a law review. People in the community, such as businesses, activists, beachgoers, etc., know where the bottlenecks are. There are a wealth of complaints in legislative testimony, boards and commissions hearing minutes, and administrative rules hearings alone. After these are collected, the folks with community ties run this by their communities and prioritize.

Year 5, 6, and 7: Proposals. What are we going to do about this? The working group will need outside expertise to get these accomplished. We’ll need policy experts to help understand how words get translated into actions, we’ll need attorneys to understand loopholes, we’ll need bureaucrats to advise on how this may get carried out in the departments, as well as many other experts in each subject area to truly craft solutions.

Year 8: Polls. A lot can change in eight years. Do the solutions we came up with still fit the problems, or are there things we missed? We will have time to shop the proposals and make amendments. What does the public think, and is there support in the majority?

Year 9: Leadership and Dissemination. At this point, we are finalizing the proposals for our upcoming ConCon and educating the public on what was prioritized and the potential solutions. After multiple years of working on this project, there should be a clear rise of specific people that have done the work and made sacrifices to bring the process to fruition. These will be our delegates because they have proven their dedication to the cause. Then we vote.

The Pros And Cons

Professor Colin Moore laid out the arguments for and against a ConCon for a small group of individuals they called a jury. A synopsis of this process, called the Final Jury Statement, can be found on UH-Manoa’s Public Policy Center website. The primary arguments against the ConCon can be significantly ameliorated with time and community involvement.

Here are some of the arguments and my reactions to them as we consider the next ConCon vote:

Special interests would dominate. It will be difficult for any special interest group to sustain a campaign for 10 years to eliminate a specific threat, when the issues have not been provided or prioritized. This is especially so when the group is invited to the table and their opinion is counted as one among many.

We would lose rights. If we do our homework, everyone should know what is going to happen at the ConCon because we already did the work. The ConCon should be filled with delegates that have already been vetted because they were active in the process.

A ConCon is not worth it until Hawaii citizenry hold our elected officials accountable to the law. Maybe. In my experience, there are tons of instances when regulations are conflicting or there are wide ranges of interpretation.

While we may not be able to individually settle each case, we can eliminate confusion constitutionally by establishing which rights supersede or prevail in the case of conflict.

There is no guarantee of a process to include the public’s participation in submitting testimony or observing a ConCon. If we do the process correctly, every bit of input from the public is already incorporated. To this point, how many people actually participate in the legislative process? The process now is not set up to include access, and the best place to change the way we proceed with a ConCon is probably in the Constitution, Article XVII, Section 2.

Most Hawaii voters are unlikely to spend the time and effort to become informed. Does this stop any legislation now? If all goes well, or even if all goes so-so, we’ll have a slate of vetted issues that have proven to be important to the public with solutions that may not be perfect but are effective.

I know I’m not the only one out there with ideas on how to get this accomplished. There are numerous agencies doing public policy work, numerous foundations funding public policy work, experts in every field, and dreamers who have integrated, community-minded visions for Hawaii. Let’s put these resources to use and reinforce the foundation that makes Hawaii the greatest place to live.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author