Three decades of change warrant review of Constitution
The question of conducting a constitutional convention will be on the ballot next year.
Voters next year will be asked if they want to convene a body of citizens in 2010 to examine and change the state Constitution, the document that establishes the fundamental laws and principles that govern Hawaii.
The decision isn't one to be made without deliberation or the public's willingness to participate. Unlike an amendment that addresses a single portion of law, a constitutional convention allows review of an entire governmental system, an undertaking that could have historic consequences.
It has been 30 years since the last convention, a watershed that set up the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, regulations and protections for land, water and other natural resources, tax provisions, term limits for governors, legislative and judicial powers, public education structures and state-city jurisdictions, among other elements.
Three decades have seen great transformation in the islands and in the world, and it is time for Hawaii to take a hard look at the institutions that could enable the state to meet new challenges.
Right now, Hawaii's economy is based on tourism, an industry extremely vulnerable to global political and economic instability. But as a catalyst for growth, it has been supplanted by buying, development and selling of land, an unsustainable activity given the pressures of overwhelming population, resource consumption and singular stresses on finite space.
Energy independence, or even reducing dependence just a little, remains out of reach, though political leaders have warmed the atmosphere with lots of hot air about renewable energy, biofuels and alternatives. Public education is caught in a web of tangled authorities, legislative action -- and inaction -- bent toward influence of special interests and protection of fixed businesses, county governments weighed with responsibilities and functions they are hard-pressed to pay for with the state's tight grip on most tax revenues and employment unchangingly high in low-wage service industries and high-cost public jobs.
Constitutional changes might not correct all problems, but restructuring government to reflect new demands and objectives while re-emphasizing Hawaii's long-held values could be what the state needs to get moving again.
A vote to hold a convention is just the first step in what will likely be a contentious process. There will be groups who benefit from the existing state of affairs opposing changes, groups who will seek changes to enlarge their interests, others who will want to dismantle current laws that shield resources or civil rights and still others who will attempt to insert narrow ideological doctrines. Nonetheless, changes in the larger world require Hawaii to reassess its guiding policies.