Five questions to ask yourself about the Con Con
Before I decide to vote for or against holding a Constitutional Convention, I'm going to try to answer these five questions. You should make your own list. Perhaps some of these would be on it.
» Do I trust the voters? Some folks say that opponents of a Con Con don't "trust" the people to make wise solutions by directly voting. However, we know that in any democracy "the people" are asked to be trusted in electing legislators, approving or rejecting any constitutional amendments legislators might put on the ballot, electing delegates to a Con Con and voting on proposed amendments after a convention. If I don't trust the people to elect legislators who will do a good job, how do I trust the people to elect delegates who will do a good job?
It is less about trust and more about the context that makes it more or less likely that a majority of voters will make a knowledgeable and wise choice. If I conclude that voters are ill informed or too busy to pay attention to constitutional issues, then I might conclude that a Con Con is not right for us at this time. Otherwise, democracy demands that we trust the voters both in electing people to the Legislature and as delegates and in making judgments about proposed constitutional changes.
» Can we have a level political playing field? Does the Internet somewhat diminish or neutralize the well-financed special interests that might seek to influence our election of delegates or views toward specific amendments? We all know that a lot of money can have a large impact on whether voters elect a person or approve or reject a proposed amendment on a ballot. The real question today is whether the shift towards "free" information, blogs, Web pages, etc., can or would diminish the influence of those nasty special interests (defined as those people who disagree with us.)
» Is our state Constitution out of step with society? Have technology, democracy, online fundraising, the media, education, social values and role of government changed enough since 1978 to benefit from the special focus and time spent in a dedicated convention? As I read our Constitution, most of it seems relevant and applicable today. Yet a closer look tells us traditional ways are under stress. From Washington to state capitols to county councils, it might be a mistake to assume that what has always "worked" should stay the same. If a growing segment of the electorate is more likely to participate in voting on issues and candidates through the mail or on line, should we ignore these trends? Should we ignore the reality that basic civics is not taught in our schools?
» Can a Con Con resolve ongoing issues relating to Hawaiian rights, sovereignty and ceded lands? In 1978 we created the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, assuming that the special historical status of the host culture/nation was self-evident. Since then, the method of electing the OHA trustees has been legally challenged, as has the premise that being Hawaiian is relevant at all.
My question to myself is this: Do I think it is possible in a Con Con to create a consensus solution that preserves, clarifies and enhances the rights and benefits of the host culture, particularly in terms of ceded lands? I also will be pondering whether it is possible to strengthen the choices provided the Hawaiian community by empowering OHA or another entity to authorize charter schools and in effect create a Hawaiian-governed, and Hawaiian-funded, alternative public school system that would provide more choices for parents and students. I ask myself whether these issues are best resolved through negotiations by existing agencies and groups and the Legislature or really do need a special convention.
» Can public education be improved? Our Board of Education is elected but we don't know who they are. They have no power over the purse. The school day is too short and the technology for learning too sparse. Schools look like factories and are too big. Virtual and individual learning is spotty. We provide no facilities for new charter schools. Can a Con Con help? I'm not sure.
Jim Shon was a delegate to the 1978 Constitutional Convention. He is a former state House representative and the former executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office.