State needs a Con Con to prepare for its future
By John Griffin
Could and should the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability process lead us into a long-delayed state Constitutional Convention in 2010? Let's hope so.
Yes, the two are separate items. But both will be topics in the 2008 state Legislature, and it's possible to see the community debate on sustainability issues as a prelude and preparation for a needed Con Con.
At this point, the sustainability task force of mostly planners and government officials, set up by the Legislature in 2005, is in the home stretch of an admirable process of research and gathering and organizing much public input.
This is pointing to a major public conference Sept. 22. In turn, that should help produce a proposed Sustainability Plan to be presented to the Legislature in January.
Where we go from there will be up for discussion, but the idea is to focus on how to keep and improve the best of Hawai'i and to prepare for the years up to 2050 and even beyond. This is planning writ large with a dose of idealism, not predicting the future but striving for the one we want.
Naturally enough, most public meeting discussion to date on finding Hawai'i a sustainable future focuses on our internal needs — striking a balance between the right kind of economic prosperity, much better environmental preservation and enhancement, and strong consideration of the role of community and culture. This is good.
But there has to be more, for Hawai'i can't prosper isolated in a changing world. As I've written before, we must think and act both locally and globally, all at the same time.
So some outside issues, such as globalism, climate change, and new world regional alliances, need to be considered before the sustainability process is complete. I've only seen one reference to this need, a task force notation that there must be "planning for transitions brought on by global changes."
In any event a key question remains: What will happen after the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability Task Force hands its proposed plan to the 2008 Legislature?
One suggestion — some would say fear — is that the result will be a new version of the 1970s-era State Plan, which was ambitious but too much ignored, even before it became outdated. That could happen again even if the Legislature sets up some follow-up group to the current task force.
Another suggestion is that the coming Legislature use the Hawai'i 2050 proposals as a basis for launching a half-dozen or more key projects for the future. Those might include such steps as faster development of UH West O'ahu, dramatic reforms in public education to help our nontourism economy grow in the information age, finding productive ways to deal with homelessness, or reforms in the environment and food self-sufficiency.
These are fine, but more must be done to launch our old-new Hawai'i through the first part of the 21st century — and that's where another state Constitutional Convention is needed.
Our last such Con Con was in 1978, and it produced needed improvements and enhancements. Hawai'i has changed much since then in some dramatic ways, economically, politically and socially. A new generation has emerged and another is rising.
Scholars and other community observers and activists list dozens of possible adjustments that can and should be considered in a holistic way by newly elected Con Con delegates from all islands.
Under the present constitution, a proposal for a new Con Con must be put before voters at least every 10 years. So such a measure will be on the ballot next year. It should be approved to take place in 2010.
As usual, some defenders of the status quo will oppose a new Con Con. Some may even argue that the sustainability process will not produce any needed changes.
But I would argue that the sustainability process and what it sparks at the Legislature are best seen as part of ongoing reforms leading into a Con Con that then provides a fresh perspective with some new faces and a broad outlook, including looking out to our changing nation and world.
For now, sustainability has become a buzzword, which I suppose is progress. Still, I fear it could be turned into a cliché unless we see it as something more than an insular need to "Keep Hawai'i Hawai'i."
John Griffin is the former editorial page editor of The Advertiser.