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Anti-Con Con group gets mainland funds


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POSTED: Friday, September 26, 2008

The lobbying arm of the mainland-based National Education Association is putting $325,000 into a campaign to get local voters to reject a state Constitutional Convention.

The NEA money was sent to the newly formed Hawaii Alliance, a group of labor unions and business groups opposed to the ballot question regarding a Con Con.

The Hawaii Alliance lists former Gov. George Ariyoshi as the chairman, but he said he was asked by Mike McCartney, the Hawaii State Teachers Association executive director, to be honorary chairman.

“;I support the mission, which is to get people to understand that a Con Con is not a good thing for Hawaii,”; Ariyoshi said in an interview earlier this week.

So far the Alliance has only filled out a registration form with the Campaign Spending Commission and has not detailed how much money it has collected or who is donating.

The NEA, however, filed a report with the commission listing the $325,000 donation to the alliance.

Rep. Della Au Belatti, a Con Con supporter, called the big donation “;terribly disappointing.”;

“;The very people who are saying we should be against Con Con because of special interests coming in have demonstrated that they themselves are being backed by outside interests,”; said Belatti (D, Makiki-Tantalus). “;This is $325,000 from a Washington lobbying group that clearly doesn't want to see educational reform in this state. I have faith in the people of this state who will look at the issues and cut through all the slick publicity campaigns.”;

Neither the NEA nor the local HSTA responded to calls and e-mails for comment.

Although it has not been reported yet, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly is also making a donation to the Alliance.

UHPA's August board meeting minutes said Kristeen Hanselman, the associate executive director, described the alliance as a group representing “;labor, business and nonprofits joined together to encourage voters to vote 'no' on a constitutional convention.”;

The UHPA was told that a Con Con could “;diminish bargaining rights, access to health care and retirement benefits”; if the state Constitution were changed.

Directors of the university instructors union approved giving $35,000 to the alliance and an additional $10,000 to help a mainland political consultant study voting patterns in Hawaii.

Reports on the UHPA support are not due to the Campaign Spending Commission until next month.

Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case said the donations “;have nothing to do with principle and everything to do with power.”;

“;The Hawaii Alliance is a defensive action by various groups that view public discussion of Hawaii's future and possible change in Hawaii's political culture as threats to their position,”; Case said yesterday.

So far, the Hawaii Alliance has sponsored one television commercial featuring a Con Con opponent, Anne Feder Lee, the author of the most complete book on the Hawaii Constitution. Lee is a former University of Hawaii professor.

She opposed holding a Con Con in 1998, saying there was no compelling need to revisit the state Constitution.

The Hawaii Constitution calls for voters to decide every 10 years whether there should be a convention to consider changes to the Constitution. The document was changed in 1968 and then again in 1978. In 1988 voters rejected calls for a convention, but approved it in 1996, but public employee unions challenged the vote and the state Supreme Court overturned the vote.

The court ruled that blank votes in the election must be counted as “;no”; votes, which resulted in the measure failing in 1998.

This year, supporters say the Constitution should be amended while opponents say a convention would be costly and is unneeded.