Con Con raises issues of cost, need
POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2008
It has been 30 years since a Constitutional Convention was convened to consider changes to the Hawaii Constitution. Voters will decide this year whether it is time again to do that.
2 Statewide Questions
The State of Hawaii Constitutional Convention question:
Amendment to the state Constitution proposed by the 24th Legislature:
The idea of a review every 10 years was written into the guiding document by its authors.
It is not the only way the Constitution is amended. Since the 1978 Con Con, voters have approved more than 40 changes that were generated in the state Legislature.
This year, voters will also be asked whether the required age to run for governor should be lowered to 25 from 30. The Legislature was persuaded to put it on the ballot by Rep. Tommy Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo) based on a constituent's argument that he was considered old enough to fight for his country but not old enough to be governor.
Public employee unions, Democratic Party leaders and the Hawaii Business Roundtable say there is no need for a Con Con now. An alliance of opponents has inundated airwaves with "Vote No" commercials in a campaign bolstered by $325,000 from the lobbying arm of the mainland-based National Education Association.
Tony Gill, Oahu Democratic Party chairman, said there is no problem or dysfunction in the Constitution that needs to be fixed. "A constitution is a stable document. You don't engage in a Con Con just for the happy event. You don't re-form the Constitution every couple of years for the hell of it."
State Attorney General Mark Bennett disagreed. "There are so many ways a Con Con could make government more efficient, save us money over time. If we can improve our system of government in a way we are not going to achieve without a Con Con, we clearly should."
The Republican Party, as well as some Democrats, including former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, are advocates of a Con Con.
Bennett said important issues that would not get to the voters by way of the Legislature include the possible "constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. We don't have that. I think people would approve it." Another possibility is to create county boards to govern the Department of Education.
J.N. Musto, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly executive director, said there are unique parts in the Hawaii Constitution that respect the diversity here, including "the right to privacy, the ability for public employees to bargain collectively."
People have responded "yes" to a Con Con in the People Poll done by the construction industry, said supporter state Rep. Della Au Bellati (D, Tantalus-Makiki-McCully). The question asked in other polls adds the element of a multimillion-dollar price tag to convene a Con Con. Estimates range from $11 million to $41 million.
"The cost is thrown out there as a red herring," said Bellati.
In 1998, the last time a Con Con was proposed, a majority of voters who answered the question said "yes." But the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld a union challenge, ruling that blank ballots be counted as "no" votes; that tipped the scale toward defeat.