Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

Hawaii needs a
constitutional convention

JUST how many elections do you think we would hold, if we had to survey the voters first to find out if they really wanted an election?

Probably not very many, if we wrung our hands and whimpered that elections: make mischief, cost too much, disorganize government and allow single-issue wackos to trample our laws. Actual elections may be just too politically incorrect.

But as George Bernard Shaw said: "Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few."

So at regular times we gather and vote for leaders.

It is a scary business, this democracy. Votes don't go as planned or hoped, committees start with good intentions and wind up with the twisted and bizarre. The clear-eyed candidate standing upon principle soon slips in betrayal.

Next month, we get our biggest chance at democracy when Hawaii's voters pick up their ballots to vote for or against holding a constitutional convention.

The patient, hard-working and well-regarded former president of the 1978 Constitutional Convention, Bill Paty, says Hawaii should have another, although he can see the trouble coming a long way down the furrow.

"You are going to have a very divisive and contentious Con Con, there's no way to escape it . . . But are you going to turn your back because you can't stand the heat?" he asks.

Others including the League of Women Voters worry that another Con Con would cost $10-$12 million and we can't afford it.

Former Con Con delegate and now state Rep. Jim Shon trembles at the visage of "very well-financed economic interests" that would attempt to strip our Constitution of its strengths, fairness and integrity," as if he never saw a lobbyist at the state House.

Shon, who relies on the wisdom of the voters in Makiki to keep him employed, must doubt the resolve of the entire body politic when he says that, "In 1996, you don't have the level of citizen oversight and energy that we had in 1978 to keep delegates honest and focused."

Even more amazingly, another former Con Con delegate, the present speaker of the House, Joe Souki, says the convention was full of "lay people like myself and we sometimes did not understand the ramifications of the changes we were making."

So the problem with democracy and constitutional conventions is that they are an expensive, frivolous exercise, determined by a lazy, unthinking mob and then populated and staffed by bozos.

That does not have to be. The cure for the evils of democracy, as H.L. Mencken wrote, is more democracy.

WE need another constitutional convention because conventions are the true discussions of what we want for our islands. Impotent commissions and task forces don't have meaningful dialogue, real talk happens between men and women making the rules for our state. We haven't sat down and had a real talk since 1978.

What will we do about education, how will we divide the load between county and state, why do we need a lieutenant governor, what about computers, what jobs should be left to government and what opportunities given to the private sector and what about taxes?

We need leaders who can deal with those big issues, because, as a trip to the Legislature or county council will confirm, the pumps in our political gene pool are sucking air.

As the preamble to the present Constitution notes, "with an understanding and compassionate heart," we can do better.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

©Copyright 1996, Honolulu Star-Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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