Unlike watershed Con Con in 1978, complacency is today’s attitude on political activism
Harvey’ s devastation in Texas holds somber lessons for resiliency planning for Hawaii
SUNDAY 9/ 3/ 17
Next year, Hawaii voters get their once-adecade chance to register not only their displeasure with the state of government, but their hope that democracy can fix it. Hawaii, Illinois and Connecticut are the only states that give voters a regularly scheduled chance to decide if they should call a convention just for amending the state Constitution.
We vote every 10 years for or against a Constitutional Convention, or “Con Con,” and next year it will again be on the general election ballot.
The Con Con watershed year was 1978 because the “Change is good” feeling from the ’60s and ’70s was still in the political air, and there was a “keep cronies out of the convention” vibe. Secondly, the ‘78 Con Con focus became the issues that had been stopped or bottled up in the past.
As former Honolulu Advertiser columnist Jerry Burris put it in a discussion of the 2008 convention vote, it was a “political power struggle between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.’”
Out of the 102 elected del- egates, only three were current office holders; according to reports from the event 39 years ago, many of the delegates were attorneys, businesspersons, educators and union members but few professional politicians. Of course the class of 1978 saw the birth of many political careers, including now-former Gov. John Waihee, and now-former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris. The Con Con’s accomplishments included the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the resignto-run laws, a judicial panel to pick judges and a Council on Revenues to give the state a rational means for knowing how much money it could spend.
Today, Hawaii does not appear to be a state in much dissatisfaction. As the Gallup and Healthways survey recently noted, “Hawaii residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2016, with the state reaching the top spot for the sixth time since tracking began in 2008.”
At the same time, those “haves” are the ones with the political power to make sure that things don’t topple the existing power centers. The public employee unions hold power because they are recognized in the state Constitution; taking away the constitutional authority for collective bargaining would mean a completely different state budgeting process and a real diminishment of labor clout.
Also, allowing voters to introduce legislation to be ———
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR >> RAISE YOUR HAND >> voted on by everyone through initiative would free up those who say no one listens to the majority.
And finally, a Con Con would bring some new blood to a very tired political cast of characters running the state.
So how did the voters react a decade ago when asked if they wanted a Con Con? A thunderous “No Way!” Out of 434,264 votes cast, one-third of the voters said yes and almost two-thirds said no.
The reason why is that no one has come up for a reason why we need to review the entire Constitution.
“My reaction is the same as every earlier time,” said Anne Feder Lee, an expert on the state Constitution and retired University of Hawaii professor. “No need for one. I haven’t seen or heard anyone give any reason why one is needed now.”
The 1978 Con Con started with vaguely defined goals and a disenfranchised citizenry.
“A survey of public opinion reveals that citizens feel as if they have little say in how things are run in the state,” one report said. Still today, it is likely that instead of a cry to “keep hope alive,” voters will go with a mantra of complacency and self-satisfaction to muddle along for another decade without change.
Interstate 10 was closed due to floodwaters from then-Tropical Storm Harvey on Tuesday in Houston.