On July 25, District Judge David Alan Ezra extended the deadline to Dec. 2 for a new vote on whether a constitutional convention should be held in Hawaii.
Con Con vote
While this is welcome news, the state would be better served by a postponement of the vote until the 1998 general election, which would result in a larger voter turnout and avoid the expense of a special election.
Mark Bennett, who represents the groups supporting a constitutional convention, argues that the election needs to occur before the next state legislative session to give lawmakers the opportunity to set the same convention schedule that had been proposed during the previous session.
Bennett ignores an important facet of constitutional conventions -- the need to prepare the public and potential candidates for this tremendous undertaking.
While the election of delegates, the convention itself and the ratification of the proposed amendments can all take place within the same year, adequate preparations must begin well before.
The 1978 Con Con was authorized by the electorate in 1976. The 1977 Legislature passed the legislation necessary for its implementation, including an appropriation to the Legislative Reference Bureau to do an update of the Hawaii Constitutional Convention Studies, a series of about 16 volumes.
The delegates were elected on May 21, 1978; the Con Con convened July 5, 1978, and lasted almost three months. The amendments proposed by the convention went on the ballot in the November 1978 general election. Similar preparations preceded the 1968 Con Con.
In "With an Understanding Heart -- Constitution Making in Hawaii," an analysis of the 1968 Con Con by Dr. Norman Meller, an entire chapter is devoted to the extensive pre-convention work done by government-funded committees and by a volunteer coalition of citizen groups after the 1967 Legislature had passed the enabling legislation.
This citizen group began in mid-1967 to plan for a three-day community conference to take place about six months before the election of delegates, scheduled for June 1, 1968.
The purpose of the conference was to educate the public on constitutional issues and to stimulate individuals to stand as delegates to the convention.
The Con Con convened on July 15, 1968, and the proposed amendments went on the ballot in the 1968 general election.
For both conventions, the enabling legislation was enacted at least a year before the convening of the Con Cons, allowing people time to identify and discuss the issues to be addressed before the election of delegates, and also to give ample time to prepare the delegates for the work ahead.
In 1968, the citizens' committee held a three-day symposium for delegates to the convention soon after their election. A similar workshop was held in 1978.
To illustrate the importance placed on pre-convention preparations, a publication of the Council of State Governments, "The Book of the States," 1994-95 Edition, reports that in New York, the Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision was created on May 26, 1993. The mission of this non-partisan body was to prepare New Yorkers for a convention -- in 1997.
A Con Con, to be a truly democratic event, needs the wide involvement of the citizenry -- carefully selecting delegates, following and testifying on the issues, and ratifying proposed amendments. To achieve this, we need to be educated on the role of our state Constitution and on the important issues to be considered by the convention.
Even if the vote on the question of whether to have a Con Con were to take place by Dec. 2, the convention was approved by the electorate, and the enabling legislation passed by the 1998 Legislature, the election of delegates should not be held before sometime in 1999. This would mean that the ratification of the proposed amendments would probably take place in the general election of the year 2000.
Under this scenario, the sensible and responsible thing to do would be to schedule the vote on the question in 1998.
Jean Aoki is president of the
League of Women Voters of Hawaii.