Thursday, October 23, 2008


REBUILDING THE KENNEL: Every year anyone who follows the Hawai`i legislature gets physically ill watching the bizarre process play itself out.

With all it’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t deadlines, spur of the moment hearings, double-crossing crossovers and fake arcana- where stacks are decked and decks are stacked and bills are bludgeoned and butchered at the caprice of committee chairs conferred with the command and control of a covert contract killer- it’s arguably the most dysfunctionally absurd legislative practice in the country..

And they do it all in secret, excluding themselves from the basic provisions of our own Hawai`i sunshine laws while most legislatures in the county at least abide by. their own open meetings and records provisions..

Its hurry-up-and-wait, four-months-a-year format makes running out the clock the order of the day. Gutted blank bills miraculously re-appear containing brand new, bought-and-paid-for legislation at the last minute as popular bills that actually got public hearings by day are facelessly exterminated by night.

And then suddenly it’s over. And people look at the bills that did and didn’t pass and ask “whoa- what the heck just happened.”

It alive, it’s dead, it’s alive, it’s dead, she’s my daughter, she’s my sister.

It’s Chinatown Jake.

So when the chance for a constitutional convention (ConCon) to change the basic way our legislature works- perhaps even year round sessions where legislation gets real consideration and due diligence takes the place of hostage-at-knife-point sausage stuffing- we were eager to hear some ideas.

The administrative branch’s departmental structure and lack of transparency and accountability is dismal too. Corruption of the bureaucracy is embedded in the constitutional structure giving the governor- whomever it is or has been- carte blanc to crony up to the bar.

We could go on and on but the problem is that since the discussion began earlier this year, no one has mentioned these kinds of reforms. At all, much less in any detail.

An exciting web site Hawaii Concon. org was put together by Peter Kay last spring for discussion and columnists and bloggers were all agog with the possibilities.

And though 193 movers and shakers and political junkies signed up to start discussing some ideas on what needed reforms. revisions or at least reviews would look like, guess what? Nary a word about full legislative and administrative reform.

None of the 193 have posted ideas much less discussed anything that approaches the massive governance reform that would set Hawai`i free from the piss-poor excuse for good governance Hawai`i enjoys today

Nothing. Nada. Zip Zilch has been said by those who are promoting a ConCon. None of the 48 discussions involved fundamentally changing the way the state does business except for a discussion of a unicameral legislative process which was decidedly ignored by most.

As a matter of fact lately it has all degenerated into a spitting contest between the pro and anti ConCon advocates of late.

What it has been is a place for Ken Conkin to post his racist tirades against native Hawaiians, the ding-a-Lingleites to try to decentralize the board of education (again) and the corporate interest to bust unions.

It’s also been a place for discussion of dozens of manini items like same sex marriage, term limits, judges’ retirement age, UH autonomy, anti-tax measures and a slew of other divisive, hot-button issues that have either already been rejected by voters or are at best a silly reason to have a whole convention rather than just a single amendment on the ballot.

As a matter of fact very little has been proposed and what has lacks popular support at best.

What Hawai`i needs instead is the power of initiative and referendum and the ability to propose constitutional amendments via petition.

And while that subject is discussed by nine people it’s another of those measures that is a single issue that doesn’t even seem to be on the radar screen of voters when they elect their legislators- who might just put an amendment on the ballot if enough citizens made it a lobbying priority..

And just who are the ConCon delegates going to be? Why, those who have won an election, 2010 style- where money is all that matters.

What makes people think all of a sudden a ConCon delegate election is going to be any different than the ones we have this year where we couldn’t even get enough people to run to challenge half the incumbents?

The only valid purpose of a ConCon would be fundamental structural changes to Hawai`i governance. But whether we can articulate them in finished form or not they aren’t even on the table.

A ConCon would just be an exercise in specific issue influence peddling by the special and corporate interests that will make sure the pubic interest is left at the door.

Our original enthusiasm for a ConCon earlier this year has soured as we discovered that even those who understand the problems and want to see legislative and administrative restructuring aren’t even talking about centering the convention around fundamental change.

People talk about cost and the potential for erosion of civil rights and environmental and worker protections as a reason to vote no. But we’re more concerned about the lack of enthusiasm for dealing with the only real reason to say yes- to change the fundamental way the state conducts business.

And that’s the reason we’re urging a ”no” vote to a constitutional convention on November 4.


Larry said...

Very well stated, Andy. Thank you.

Unknown said...

While there are some good points to a few of the possible con-con issues, as I've learned over the years, when I don't completely understand an issue I look to see who is pushing it. The usual right wingnuts are coming out of the woodwork down here.
That's good enough for me. VOTE NO.

Ed Coll said...

"And they do it all in secret, excluding themselves from the basic provisions of our own Hawai`i sunshine laws"

Is there anything short of a con-con that can fix that? Not to be a one-note Johnny but if they can do things in secret and transparency is non-existent no other reform is possible.

Andy Parx said...

The question is what would make anyone think that a Concon would address that or any of these things.