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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Get rid of resign-to-run law

By David Shapiro

Former District Judge Russell Blair's demand that four elected officials resign at once before campaigning for higher office has set off a scramble in the courts and political circles to clarify the resign-to-run provision of the state Constitution.

Here's another idea: Let's take this opportunity to abolish the resign-to-run rule. It was enacted with dubious intent and serves only to protect incumbents and the status quo.

The rule discourages competition for Hawai'i's highest offices — exactly what we don't need in our inbred political environment.

The Constitution says, "Any elected public officer shall resign from that office before being eligible as a candidate for another public office, if the term of the office sought begins before the end of the term of the office held."

The practice has been for officials seeking higher office to resign when they officially file papers. But Blair claims the law intends resignation as soon as an official expresses any intention of running for another office.

He has asked the Supreme Court to so rule, and if he prevails, it could affect Mayor Jeremy Harris, who is running for governor; Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and Councilman Duke Bainum, who are running for mayor; and Councilman Jon Yoshimura, who is running for lieutenant governor.

If uncertainty persists, the Legislature will face pressure to codify current practice. Lawmakers should look instead at repealing the rule.

The constitutional amendment of 1978 was wrapped in rhetoric about fairness and protecting voters from ambitious politicians too distracted by new conquests to do their current jobs.

But there was little secret that the real intent was to force former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi to put his mid-term mayor's job at risk if he wanted to keep running against incumbent Democratic governors.

The rule came in handy as leverage again in 1998 when Democratic bosses discouraged Harris from running against Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Voters would benefit from more choices if mid-term mayors, council members and legislators could run against entrenched incumbents without having to resign their offices.

It's always a bad idea to use the Constitution to protect narrow political interests or to mandate electoral choices that voters are quite capable of making for themselves.

Voters have an easy remedy if they're bothered that a candidate might resign in mid-term to seek higher office or feel betrayed when he later does so: They can vote against him.

Mufi Hannemann and Fasi hammered Harris on the issue in the 2000 mayor's race — despite the fact that Hannemann resigned his council seat in mid-term to run against Harris and Fasi had himself resigned as mayor to run for governor.

The issue didn't take with voters, who elected Harris by a wide margin. If O'ahu voters think Harris is neglecting his mayoral duties to run for governor, they have another chance to vote against him for governor. We don't need constitutional provisions to protect voters from themselves.

In the two years preceding any presidential election, an army of mid-term governors and U.S. senators criss-crosses the country hustling support. Their states survive and voters benefit from the competition. Choices are just as important in local races for governor, mayor and Congress.

Now is an especially good time to tackle the issue. Nearly all offices are up for election next year, and we have no idea of who stands to gain or lose from changing the rule. We can decide it on the merits rather than individual interests, as should have been done in the first place.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net