ConCon soundly rejected
By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rick Daysog
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
That appeared to be the dominant sentiment among Hawai'i residents who voted more than 2-to-1 to reject a ballot issue proposing a state constitutional convention.
"The message came out loud and clear tonight: We don't need ConCon right now," said Florence Kong Kee, executive director of the Hawai'i Alliance, a labor-backed group that opposes a convention. "The voters realize that there is no need for a constitutional convention and that there are no fatal flaws in our constitution."
Given the hoopla over the Honolulu mayoral race, the ballot question about the $4.3 billion mass transit system for O'ahu and Hawai'i-born Barack Obama's historic election as the nation's first African-American president, it isn't surprising the constitutional convention issue didn't generate much interest this year, said political scientist Neal Milner.
"It was a hard sell," said Milner, a professor and ombudsman at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. "I don't think there's been a compelling theme or a compelling set of issues to bring people together."
Supporters of a constitutional convention, which included members of Gov. Linda Lingle's administration, law enforcement officials and education reform advocates, said that it's been 30 years since the last constitutional convention and that the state is in need of constitutional fixes to catch up with changes in society.
They also argue that the state Legislature has not done enough to fix today's problems.
Opponents have included labor unions, environmentalists, Native Hawaiian groups and social reformers who fear that a new constitutional convention will unravel much of the progress achieved in the past ConCon.
The last time Hawai'i held a ConCon, in 1978, delegates created the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, virtually banned nuclear power plants and placed strong protections on the environment and in support of personal privacy.
A task force set up by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who supported the new constitutional convention, estimated a convention would cost less than $10 million. But the Legislative Reference Bureau put the tab between $6.4 million and $41.7 million.
Said Lingle: "I think people were concerned about the cost and that's understandable in times such as these. It's going to be a tough couple of years for the state."
Ann Feder Lee, former political science professor at UH's West O'ahu campus and author of a reference guide to the state constitution, said that many of the problems cited by constitutional convention proponents can be fixed by the state Legislature.
"At this time, I do not see any major flaws in the document (state constitution) that requires holding a constitutional convention," she said.
Waikiki resident Matthew Nagai voted "no" on the issue, echoing complaints raised by convention opponents that it will be too expensive and will divert much-needed funds from more essential state services.
"The convention would cost too much when the state can't afford it," said Nagai.
Julia Porter of Kapolei said she voted against a constitutional convention, saying it creates another government bureaucracy.
"It's just too much," she said.
Kailua resident Kaipo Crowell also voted "no," saying he didn't see the need for a ConCon.
"I can't even tell you what came out of the previous ConCons," said Crowell. "It didn't really capture me. It just seemed like a waste of time."
Kalihi resident Nathaniel Jones said he voted "yes" because he's worried about Hawai'i's school system. Jones said his 11-year-old son is deaf but can't get the necessary help at school due to budget constraints.
"They've had my son's records since he first started school and they still say they can't afford the tools to help him in school," said Jones.
"We spend a long time every night going over his homework with him to help him understand. It's not easy. He speaks fine and understands sign language but in school he's not getting the help he needs."
Glenn and Janet China of Palolo said they voted for a ConCon because it will bring some needed changes to state government.
"I think we need some checks and balances," Glenn China said.
Former U.S. Congressman Ed Case, a former state lawmaker, said a constitutional convention is overdue. Since the last convention, Hawai'i has undergone tremendous economic and demographic changes and state government needs the kind of structural changes to catch up.
The state's population has grown 40 percent, is older and is more diverse than it was 30 years ago, he said.
"We have a government system that harkens back to the plantation store days," said Case.
"It's carried us forward and it's had a useful life but it's time for it to be re-evaluated."
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“I don’t think it’s appropriate right now, especially since we don’t have any money.”
Staff reporters Dave Dondeneau, Robbie Dingeman and Mary Vorsino contributed to this report.
Reach Rick Daysog at firstname.lastname@example.org.