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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 3:37 p.m., Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No need for a ConCon, Maui Rotarians told

The Maui News

KAHULUI A former state representative and a leader among Maui teachers told the Rotary Club of Kahului Monday that the goals desired by the people pushing for a Constitutional Convention can be achieved, and more cheaply, through the legislative process, The Maui News reported today.

Term limits on lawmakers, for example. Kika Bukoski noted, somewhat wryly, that legislators already face a term limit: every two years if they serve in the House of Representatives, every four in the Senate,

Bukoski represented Upcountry in the House for two terms before voters retired him in 2004. He has relocated to O'ahu, where he works as a consultant.

The constitution should be an enduring document, he said, revised only if there is something wrong. Those pushing for a new ConCon are really "issue based; they don't have anything to do with the document itself," he said.

Karolyn Mossman described herself as one of the "union bosses" who have been labeled as the foes of a ConCon. She's a teacher at Kalama Intermediate School and secretary-treasurer of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association.

She said those campaigning against calling a ConCon are "a very broad group." The teachers, she said, did "disclose our financial support" for the Hawaii Alliance (against calling a ConCon) early, which had the effect of painting the opposition effort as "union-based."

"The unions got the most press, but OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) and a lot of others are in the Hawaii Alliance." She cited business support, including First Hawaiian Bank.

About 20 Rotarians attended the ConCon debate's part two at a luncheon meeting at The Dunes at Maui Lani. Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona had given the pro argument to the club last week.

Bukoski said he thinks the weakest argument is that it's been a long time since the last convention, 30 years. "You cannot use time just for the sake of time itself," he said.

He presented the results of a search of a sample of states and the years they last held a constitutional convention: Alabama, 1901; Alaska, 1955 (before it was a state); California, 1972; Illinois, 1970; Missouri, 1942; Nevada, 1864; Oregon, 1973; Ohio, 1906; Rhode Island, 1985; and Texas, 1974.

Hawai'i is one of 14 states that periodically puts the question of calling a convention on the ballot. It does so every 10 years, which is the shortest automatic trigger among the states.

Bukoski said the interval is really nine years, since each time the Legislature first has to decide not to call a convention itself.

Aiona had argued that the only way to get reforms, such as local school boards, is to change the state's organic law, since the issue comes up in the Legislature but never passes.

Mossman said that particular issue really stems from "we want control of the funding." Of course, she said. But have voters thought about having not only funding but standards, testing, curriculums and ratings vary by county?

"Do we really want different policies from county to county to county?" she asked, adding that "you can do those things now."

She also argued against the cost, which has been estimated at $10 million to $48 million. She noted that the state budget reductions would mean $46 million out of Department of Education funding and said she'd rather spend that amount in classrooms than on a convention.

Mossman said the cheap ConCon would allow for only 25 people from around the state to convene "about the size of the Senate."

To fund a much-broader-based convention, she said, would require closer to $50 million.

Bukoski said he did not disagree with some of the goals being pushed by Aiona. A unicameral Legislature, for example.

He said he just thinks that could be done by amendment in any year, without opening up the entire constitution.

Mossman said she had read the entire document and found some things in it she would not like changed: environmental and Hawaiian rights, for example.

The document written in 1978 and submitted to the voters was "progressive for its time," she said.

A new ConCon also would have to submit its changes to ratification by the electorate.

Mossman said she had checked and discovered that, across the states, constitutional changes submitted through the independent amendment process passed three times out of four, while changes submitted through conventions had only a 50 percent pass rate.

Bukoski said that while he could support some of the issues that Aiona and the pro-ConCon faction are for, one he cannot is initiative and referendum.

He said ours is a representative, not an electoral democracy. "It is not mob or majority rule," he said.

When that line got a laugh, he explained that he had not misspoken. He meant that legislation through representatives rather than direct democracy is the preferred method of government.

Allowing direct enactment of laws through initiative creates instability, he said.

If people think that the Legislature is unresponsive, he said, "they should take a little time out of the day to be civic," and study and lobby and put pressure on their representatives.

He said the record low turnout in September's primary and first special election was "really sad."

For more Maui news, visit www.mauinews.com.