Every so often, the news reports on people who deny the legitimacy of the government we have here in Hawaii. “We’re not subject to those laws,” they say, “so we don’t have to follow rules or pay taxes.” It pains me to read stories of people who lost their homes after being told that they didn’t have to pay back their mortgages because the laws under which they were made were invalid in Hawaii.
It’s true that the path from Kingdom of Hawaii to Territory of Hawaii was peppered with events that were morally questionable…of course depending on your morality. Some people value strength —“Might makes right!” Some have ideas of a moral objective, and the path to get there isn’t important — “The ends justified the means.”
What is legitimacy? I’ll start with the first clause of the first article of the Hawaii Constitution: “All political power of this State is inherent in the people and the responsibility for the exercise thereof rests with the people. All government is founded on this authority.” That sounds a lot like “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government,” Article 21(3) of the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” from the 1776 document that the U.S. celebrates this month. So I propose that legitimacy of a government comes from the consent of those governed.
There are, of course, those in the “Haole go home!” camp who may say that the only voices that matter in Hawaii government are those of the kanaka maoli, perhaps meaning “any descendant of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778,” as section 201 of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act defines “Native Hawaiian.” Are we talking about a favored race here? They are entitled to their opinions, but they appear to be in the minority.
In 1959, the U.S. Congress passed our Admission Act. One unusual thing about this act was that it wasn’t a declaration like most laws are. Rather, it was an offer. If the people of Hawaii, at a referendum election, accepted statehood, then the U.S. would welcome us in. That’s what section 7 of the Admission Act says. The act specified three questions to be put before the voters, and if any one of them were not approved by a majority of the voters the Admission Act would have no effect.
On each of the three ballot questions, more than 132,000 people voted in favor while fewer than 8,000 voted against. There were 155,000 registered voters then, and the voter turnout was the largest we have ever had. When we became a state, sirens blared, horns honked, bells rang, fireworks were launched, and there was literally dancing in the streets.
We accepted statehood and all that came with it, including submission to the federal government of the U.S. We accepted it even though our history with the U.S. included an unprovoked attack on the queen of Hawaii, Japanese internment, and 60 years of being an “insular possession” (a second-class status that no one should have to endure for that long). The acceptance was not unanimous, but it was decisive. It was a clear expression of the will of the people. That’s why I conclude that our government is legitimate.
In no organized society can everyone do what they want, when they want, and where they want all the time. We have a set of rules that all of us must follow. We can’t just walk into a random person’s property and pick their mango tree bare because we happen to be hungry. We can’t expect to borrow money from a bank and then forget about repaying it. We can’t just accept the benefits of government and force the rest of us who pay taxes to pay more to make up for those who refuse to pony up. Those who have a different opinion can have it, but acting upon it may land them in the hoosegow. Instead of having that happen, let’s work together, even with our differing opinions, to make the best out of our civilized society.
Tom Yamachika is president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.