Hawaii voters have a rare opportunity this election to take control of their government.
Not by selecting the lawmaker a voter thinks will best represent him or her — though there’s always that option, too — but by sidestepping the establishment and diving directly into legislating.
On the ballot on Nov. 6, voters will be asked if it’s time for the state to hold a constitutional convention. A constitutional convention, or con con, is a political gathering that offers residents a chance to propose a revision of or amendments to the Hawaii Constitution.
In a nutshell, a constitutional convention is lawmaking without the lawmakers.
It consists of delegates elected from across the state who would convene and develop several prospective amendments to the state’s constitution. The Attorney General would then vet those amendments, and they would make their way onto a future ballot for the public to vote on directly.
Few legislators — if any — would serve as delegates. Any registered voter over age 18 would be eligible for election as a delegate.
Chad Blair, Ph.D., a politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat on Oahu, described it succinctly at a panel discussion on the topic last week when he called it “direct democracy.”
“It’s putting the power back in your hands,” Blair said. “Because you’re not satisfied with what the Legislature is doing.”
Agreed. Which is why we urge voters to vote yes on holding a constitutional convention.
What Hawaii residents choose to put forth should a con con take place is anyone’s guess, but the topics they could tackle — and should, in some instances — are plentiful.
Establishing legalized gambling, banning the legislative maneuver known as “gut and replace” and legalizing recreational marijuana are a few. But really, the list is long.
A con con has happened before, too, with success.
The first of three conventions occurred when Hawaii was granted statehood. The second was in 1968 and the third was convened by the public in 1978, where 35 amendments were proposed and eventually approved by the electorate.
Giving voters the opportunity for direct legislation not only sidesteps political gamesmanship, it’s the closest thing to a second party in Hawaii, a state heavier per capita with Democrats than any other.
The state is so blue politically that elections are generally won during the primary, not in November. Heavily favored candidates can barely be bothered to debate their Republican opponents after the primary results are in.
As the panel pointed out, there are two ways to look at the prospect. One way is pessimistically, where fear leads one to worry the platform will be used to strip personal freedoms and end beneficial programs.
We don’t think that will be the case. We give the electorate more credit than that. We view the opportunity optimistically, that the will of the people will tackle issues that have languished in the Legislature for reasons that can be at times dumbfounding.
For example, the practice known as “gut and replace” still exists and is used, despite reason and logic saying it shouldn’t. Gut and replace is a strategy used by legislators to significantly or completely change a bill’s content and purpose deep into the legislative process. It can be used for petty, personal reasons, too, like when two legislators don’t get along, so legitimate proposals can be short-circuited because two chests bumped.
Legislators likely don’t want a con con. It’s direct competition to their duties.
Yes votes to hold a constitutional convention on Nov. 6 count as a yes. No votes count as a no. If the question is left blank or a voter makes a mistake while trying to vote, it will also count as a no — a provision made by the state Legislature that shows it wants it easier to count a no vote than a yes.
We hope Hawaii residents seize this opportunity and approve a constitutional convention.