As we quickly near the general election and the polls are open for early voting, a Representative Democracy form of government does not require a whole lot of work of its citizenry, but it does require some very important responsibilities.
The most important is that your voice is embedded in the people elected to various public offices. Therefore, your informed vote is the key to your democratic participation. Another responsibility is to know your rights and protections under both our state and federal constitutions to better understand why and when a Constitutional Convention should be held.
To truly appreciate the Hawai‘i State Constitution, one needs to understand its evolution. The original Hawai‘i constitution, patterned after the U.S. Constitution, was adopted by the people of Hawai‘i on Nov. 7, 1950, as the basic framework for Hawai‘i’s representative form of government. The convening of the 1950 Constitutional Convention (ConCon) was viewed as an important statement to the rest of the United States that Hawai‘i was a serious and organized candidate for statehood.
The 1968 ConCon centered on the issue of apportionment, triggered when the 1964 reapportionment formula was found to be federally unconstitutional and where a federal court required the convening of a Constitutional Convention question to be placed on the ballot.
The last convention, the 1978 ConCon, was a systematic review of this important document. Promoted as the people’s convention, there was an active campaign to dissuade elected officials to run for the ConCon. The result was a forward thinking document that incorporated not only a Democratic platform of social justice and civic responsibility but one that also applied Hawaiian thought and design in a contemporary setting by embracing values like malama ‘aina and malama pono to achieve what we all now understand to be the bedrock of sustainable actions.
We need only to read the preamble to get a sense of how uniquely Hawaiian this document is:
“We, the people of Hawai‘i, grateful for Divine Guidance, and mindful of our Hawaiian heritage and uniqueness as an island state, dedicate our efforts to fulfill the philosophy decreed by the Hawai‘i state motto, ‘Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.’
“We reserve the right to control our destiny, to nurture the integrity of our people and culture, and to preserve the quality of life that we desire.
“We reaffirm our belief in a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and with an understanding and compassionate heart toward all the peoples of the Earth, do hereby ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Hawai‘i.
In retrospect, the purpose and need for all the previous ConCons now appear to be very obvious, but just because we have not had a ConCon for over 30 years it is not a good enough reason to convene one. There is an underlying premise that a constitution should not be a static document, but one that may benefit from periodic review; therefore, our Hawai‘i constitution requires that the question to hold a ConCon be placed on the ballot every 10 years.
However, requiring that the question be asked does not, and should not, automatically lead to the conclusion that change is always necessary or that the constitution is flawed. We should also be aware that constitutional conventions are usually convened to accomplish wholesale constitutional reform. Therefore, are we willing to risk opening one of the most progressive state constitutions in the nation to unknown reform when specific issues can be addressed through less costly amendment procedures?
It is not as though our constitution has remained static since the 1978 ConCon. Since then, 49 constitutional questions have been placed on the ballot. There have been 36 amendments to the constitution, 10 questions were rejected by voters, and three questions were invalidated after passage.
Those who favor a ConCon have not identified any flaws in the Hawai‘i State Constitution that would require the extraordinary effort of convening of one. They have not identified issues that would have to go beyond the Legislature placing a constitutional amendment question on the ballot and spending tens of millions of dollars when important health, human services and educational programs are being cut in this economic downturn. And they have not identified new issues, other than those that have resurfaced many times, that have already been debated many times ad nauseam, over many decades.
As one sifts through the sound bites of the pro ConCon advocates, one will find people who may feel disenfranchised by the Legislature or focused on single issues. However, many of these concerns deal with statutory provisions or statutory fixes, lack of funding, dissatisfaction with how political campaigns are conducted, lack of choice in political races or the dominance of one political party. These problems cannot be fixed nor should one expect them fixed by just holding a constitutional convention.
The purpose of the Hawai‘i State Constitution is to lay out the basic principles that govern our state; to create the structure of our government as well as the limitations of its power and to enumerate the rights of our citizens. It is in the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes that the details of such a framework are worked out.
The past 30 years have demonstrated that the Hawai‘i State Constitution is an enduring document that can withstand the passage of time, demographic changes, politicians and self-serving issues to continually serve the common good. But most importantly, our Hawai‘i State Constitution clearly demonstrates that the Hawaiian values of aloha, malama pono and malama ‘aina have an equally important role to ensure a strong democracy while uplifting the common good. The convening of a Constitutional Convention is unnecessary at this time. Please vote in the General Election and please vote “no” on the ConCon question.
• Hermina Morita is state representative for District 14, East and North Kaua‘i and the chair of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.