Initiative process gives voters power to decide
PUBLICLY funded elections carry the potential conflicts of putting legislators in charge of elections, perpetuating the incumbency advantage and using taxpayer money to increase the number of candidates without clarifying the issues.
First, what is the problem? John J. Higgins cites the "scandal" concerning lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House Speaker Tom DeLay (neither of whom has yet gone to trial) and Hawaii's history of "shady public figures" as the problems that justify his suggested solution ("Publicly funded elections put voters back in charge," Gathering Place, Feb. 12).
The voter is accused every time of being ill informed, not interested or just a bad citizen unwilling to vote. Perhaps a reason for not voting is that the voter gets shortchanged in the issue analysis department by newspapers and writers. Higgins' column in last Sunday's paper did nothing to inform; it was pure advocacy. First, document if the problem is low voter involvement, unethical behavior or both, and then solutions can be discussed. Citing a couple of allegations or a little history is not convincing.
Second, what is the range of solutions? Higgins jumps in with the single suggestion that the best way to correct any problem is to toss taxpayer money at it. Well, Hawaii is very experienced at tossing money at problems and somehow the problems do not go away. His single solution (publicly funded campaigns) is said to:
» cost only $5 a person per year; what happens in year five or 10? Does this program create an automatic cost of campaign escalation excuse?
» allow legislators to focus full time on legislation instead of raising money; who then holds them accountable if they do not have to ask for public support for anything?
» increase voter participation; yet in Maine and Arizona the only reason the campaign-financing plan was enacted was because of a voter initiative campaign. Maybe the participation was created by an initiative issue rather than the campaign finance program?
Before asking politicians to manage a fund that pays for their political campaigns and those of their opponents; Hawaii should put in place a good accountability system. Granting voters the right to call an initiative on any issue and requiring a referendum on significant legislative changes at the state and county levels could do more to create checks and balances than paying everyone's campaign expenses. After all, voters can become educated and understand single-issue ballots better than deciding among 10 candidates who have a mix of views on different issues.
Paying to get more candidates or providing equal funding for candidates still leaves the voter with a daunting apples-and-oranges decision. Initiative and referendum at the state and county levels lets the voter address egregious issues one at a time in a focused and educated manner. Let's not create problems by financing a system with no checks. Let's install checks to create balance.
Paul E. Smith is co-chairman of Let Honolulu Vote (www.lethonoluluvote.org
), which proposes amending the City Charter to allow voters to use the initiative process to place tax questions on future City & County of Honolulu ballots.