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By Paul Whalen
and David A. Pendleton

Saturday, August 21, 1999


A.G. should be
elected in Hawaii

NEXT legislative session, the Republican House minority will continue its work to give more power to the people. We will propose, as we have in the past, a constitutional amendment calling for an elected attorney general.

Of course, we won't be able to do it alone. We're going to need a lot of help from people throughout the state, including Democrats. Many already support the idea.

A former Hawaii governor used to share the following joke: "How many Democrats does it take to change a light bulb?" Answer: "Five. One to change the bulb and four to talk about how good the old one was."

All humor aside, in the Senate, there are probably five very supportive Democrats when it comes to an elected A.G. But it's going to take many more than that to change the Constitution.

Ironically, one of the Democrats who earlier in his career suggested that Hawaii voters should be allowed to elect their A.G. is Governor Cayetano, but of course he was a legislator then and understandably has had second thoughts since.

As then lieutenant governor, Cayetano in 1993 is reported to have observed that -- because our A.G. is appointed -- the only people who find corruption is the federal government.

This may have been rhetorical hyperbole, but there is a certain independence that goes with being elected by the people.

Even recently rebuffed A.G. Margery Bronster testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee a few years back that she was in favor of an elected A.G. She changed her mind later, but after her recent experience with the Senate, she may once again be open to an elected A.G. provision.

There is public support for the change. Hawaii residents indicate a strong preference for an elected attorney general. Both major dailies have printed editorials and opinions supportive of change.

Hawaii wouldn't be breaking new ground. Forty-three states elect their state attorneys general. In Tennessee, its supreme court makes the selection. In Maine, its legislature elects the A.G. And, of course, Hawaii gives that power to the governor and Senate.

Our state's Republicans, for decades, have supported an elected attorney general. It's not a new idea, just one whose time has certainly come.

It almost happened during the 1978 Constitutional Convention, when delegates were split three ways.

One group was for keeping the existing appointed A.G. provision in the Constitution. The second group, led by our present minority leader, Rep. Barbara Marumoto, was in favor of an elected A.G. The third group preferred to have the position filled by a commission.

When the amendment for an elected A.G. was introduced, then-Con Con delegate Marumoto spoke eloquently in favor of giving this power to the people: "In this era of eroding public confidence in government, there must be an independent attorney general, free of any cloud of political cronyism. He must, therefore, stand alone, slightly apart -- no, slightly above -- the daily machinations of government."

The amendment failed to pass, with 53 out of 102 total delegates voting nay.

But Hawaii's voters don't have to wait for another Con Con to reconsider this idea. The Legislature in its next session can pass an amendment on an elected attorney general and send it on to the voters for their approval.

With the ability to elect the attorney general, voters would have the last word. An elected A.G. would be more accountable to the public and less beholden to a politician or set of politicians. He or she would truly be the people's attorney.


Rep. Paul Whalen, a former county prosecutor, represents the 5th District.
Rep. David A. Pendleton, a former trial attorney, represents the 50th District.




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