Your publication recently editorialized that a Constitutional Convention would “put power back into the hands of voters” and “sidesteps political gamesmanship.” If only. You make no mention of the enormous power of dark money that has so infected our democracy.
To protect Hawaii’s future, voters should reject a Constitutional Convention at the ballot box this year because there is a very real risk that the kind of money that flows to institutions like the Grassroot Institute which is pushing for a ConCon will thwart the hopes of the people.
It’s easy to become frustrated with the sluggish pace of political change in the islands. Year after the year, lawmakers fail to pass policies to address our state’s biggest challenges, like our exorbitant cost of living, affordable housing shortage, or chronically underfunded public schools.
Yet, irritation with lackluster legislative progress is not solid justification for overhauling Hawaii’s primary governing document. If voters approve a so-called “ConCon” at a time when corporate cash is flooding our election system, the results could be catastrophic for working families, Native Hawaiians, and the environment.
Across the nation, support for both federal and state-level Constitutional Conventions predominantly comes from right-wing organizations and Wall Street. One of the primary goals of these business interests is repealing collective bargaining protections, which they have already begun to achieve through the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hawaii has historically been a pro-labor state. Collective bargaining rights are enshrined in Article XIII of the State Constitution, which states that public and private employees “shall have the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining as provided by law.”
Altering, or even erasing, Article XIII could lead to a society in which corporate greed runs unchecked. Unions have been instrumental not just in fighting for better pay and working conditions for their members, but in movements to raise the minimum wage, establish paid family leave, and deliver a quality public education to all of Hawaii’s keiki. Undermining the power of labor organizations to fight for economic justice would jeopardize the prosperity of the entire local working class.
Similarly, our State Constitution emphasizes the need for environmental preservation and stewardship. Article XI, Section 1, calls for the State and counties to “conserve and protect Hawai’i’s natural beauty and all natural resources,” and use these resources “in a manner consistent with their conservation and in furtherance of the self-sufficiency of the state.”
Large landholders, like Alexander and Baldwin, would reap financial windfalls by rewriting the Constitution to deregulate development. Agrochemical companies, too, would benefit from having greater acreage on which to expand their industrial agricultural enterprises, without concern for the damage wrought by their relentless pesticide application.
Finally, Native Hawaiians could be uniquely threatened by the approval of a ConCon. Numerous provisions of the State Constitution safeguard special rights for the Hawaiian people and defend their cultural practices and connection to the ʻaina.
The preamble, for instance, declares that the people of Hawaii, “mindful of our Hawaiian heritage,” will strive to realize the philosophy of the state motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻaina i ka pono,” which can be translated to, “The life/sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”
Article XII, moreover, establishes the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and recognizes the importance of public trust lands to the advancement of Hawaiians.
Abolishing the special status of Native Hawaiians would likely be a chief goal of business-backed convention delegates. Local conservative groups, like the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii, callously contend that the rights afforded to our state’s indigenous people are a barrier to the free market, rather than a necessary step in uplifting and empowering the islands’ indigenous people, who remain marginalized within their ancestral homeland.
Previous Constitutional Conventions were held to address clear political needs. In 1950, a ConCon was held to compose a constitution in anticipation of statehood.
Nearly two decades later, in 1978, a convention was coordinated to reflect upon the disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians, how to balance environmental preservation with growing urban development, and whether or not to create term limits for the governor and lieutenant governor.
No urgent political need of that magnitude exists today that cannot be addressed through the legislative process.
Accordingly, voters should oppose a ConCon this year and, instead, organize their communities to pressure policymakers into passing laws that put people before profit.
Dr. Amy Perruso is a veteran social studies teacher at Mililani High School, member of the Governor’s Task Force on Education and the Democratic Party nominee for the State House in District 46 (Wahiawa – Whitmore Village – Launani Valley).