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Constitutional Convention debated

KAPA‘A — The ongoing debate over the benefits and drawbacks of a potential Constitutional Convention to revamp the state’s fundamental legal document added another chapter this weekend when representatives of both sides argued their positions in a League of Women Voters-sponsored discussion Saturday afternoon at the Kapa‘a Public Library.

State Rep. Hermina Morita, D-14th District, argued the current constitution continues to serve its purpose as an enduring, effective governing document, while Princeville resident and freelance writer Walter Lewis extolled the virtues of open government and a powerful electorate.

“No legislative body ever acts on all that it might,” Lewis said. “We the people are the government. We ought to have the opportunity to enlarge and improve the provisions by which we are governed. (The convention) gives the people of our state the opportunity to seek changes … denied them by the Legislature.

“The Con-Con gives full attention to changing the state Constitution,” he said. “The Legislature gives changing the Constitution only passing attention.”

Morita disagreed the Legislature has not fulfilled its role of adapting the constitution, which was first ratified in 1950 as a way of showing America that Hawai‘i was ready and eager for statehood.

“It’s not as if the constitution has remained static since the 1978 Con-Con. There have been 36 amendments (in that time),” she said. “Just because we haven’t had a Con-Con for 30 years is not a good reason to convene one. They are convened to accomplish wholesale reform. What is so flawed? Show me where it is broken.

“(A convention) puts at risk other important rights, privileges and protections that we now enjoy,” she said.

A major issue of the public discussion has focused on the price tag. Depending on who is asked, and a host of other factors, the cost to taxpayers has been estimated to be anywhere between $2 and $40 million.

“You can never measure the quality of what can be achieved … with a price tag,” Lewis said, noting the potential cost of a convention pales in comparison to the state’s $5 billion annual budget.

“If the constitution was flawed, I’d be the first to push for a Con-Con, no matter what the cost,” Morita said. “But that’s not the position we’re in. We should not be wasting our money.”

Carol Bain, co-president of the Kaua‘i League of Women Voters, said the event was held to educate local voters about the issue, to be decided via a ballot question at the Nov. 4 general election.

“Democracy depends on an informed populous,” she said.

The debate was moderated by JoAnn Maruoka, a past director of the state governing board of the League of Women Voters and a current vice chair of the League’s Con-Con Committee.

The league, which took a stance against a proposed convention when the issue was last raised in the 1990s, has remained neutral throughout the current discussion because the group could not reach a consensus opinion, and considers itself strictly non-partisan.

“That’s why we feel very comfortable going out and providing information to the public,” Maruoka said.

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