On November 4, in addition to the various candidates vying for county, state and federal office, voters will be asked to consider two questions related to the state Constitution. The first is fairly straightforward; the second is pretty complicated. Let’s take a look.
The question: Shall the age qualification for the office of governor and office of lieutenant governor be reduced from thirty years of age to twenty-five years of age?
The low-down: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The bill—SB966—was introduced by Sen. David Ige in 2007 and the legislature passed it earlier this year.
Pros: Before voting on SB966, state lawmakers heard testimony from advocacy groups like Youth Outreach! Hawaii. One example, quoted on the Hawaii House Blog, from Samadhi Bishop: “I have many friends who are under the age of 30 and are able to go to war, fight for our country and die. And yet just because of their age, they’re not eligible to lead as Governor or Lt. Governor. I know that they, myself and others my age are discouraged by this, feeling that our voice doesn’t count.” A report on the bill posited that that the amendment would “inspire Hawaii’s young people to participate in the leadership process.” Proponents of the amendment cite the fact that the U.S. Constitution allows 25-year-olds to run for Congress. Shouldn’t they also be allowed to seek Hawaii’s highest office?
Cons: There doesn’t seem to be much opposition. The slippery slope argument could be applied—if we decrease the minimum age to 25, what’s to stop it from going even lower? (There are those, including some who testified in favor of the bill, who argue it should be lowered to 18 as it is in other states.) Of course, any subsequent changes would have to go through the same process and be approved by the voters.
The question: Shall there be a convention to propose a revision of or amendments to the Constitution?
The low-down: This is obviously a big idea, and has sparked a lot of debate. Some see it as a way for Hawaii to re-order its priorities and fix things that are broken in government; others argue it’s unnecessary and could have dangerous, perhaps unforeseen, consequences. The last time Hawaii convened a Con Con was 1978; that meeting is considered by many to be a watershed event in state history.
Pros: Though it’s not strictly a partisan issue, much of the support for a Con Con comes from Republicans, who are a significant minority in the state House and Senate, plus some disillusioned Democrats. Ramon Madden, Republican candidate for the State House from the West Maui District, told us he supports a Con Con because he feels the document has been watered down and corrupted by amendments that go against its original intent. “We have a great Constitution; it doesn’t need to be fundamentally changed,” he said. “But some of these amendments need to be looked at closely and maybe shaved off. We’ve had 30 years of people adding things that disrupt the Constitution and the way it’s supposed to be working.” State Rep. Della Au Belatti, a Democrat, supports a Con Con and has, in effect, called out her own party for allowing things to run off the rails. “Are you satisfied with the way government operates now? Can we do better?” she asked in a recent Honolulu Advertiser article. Some of the key issues proponents want to see addressed include education, health care and energy use—hot-button topics that have colored this election at all levels.
Cons: There are two central arguments. First, that staging a convention would swallow up a sizeable chunk of cash at a time when the state budget is already stretched to the breaking point. Cost estimates range from less than $10 million to over $40 million depending on the source, but no one’s saying it would be cheap. Second, opponents fear that opening up the Constitution for tinkering could lead to a range of interest groups lobbying for specific changes that line up with their pet causes without taking into account the big picture. In other words, we could wind up with a mish-mash of competing ideas that lack the cohesion and long-term vision that make the document valuable and functional in the first place. Legally, opponents also argue, there’s no overarching, compelling reason to stage a Con Con. Quoted in the Advertiser, Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, a Democrat, pretty well summed up the anti-convention case: “We can’t afford it. We don’t need it.” MTW