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Hawaii coalition opposes constitutional convention

October 13, 2018

HONOLULU (AP) — A coalition of Hawaii unions, businesses and environmentalists is urging residents to vote in November against a state constitutional convention.

The purpose of the convention would be to amend or rewrite Hawaii’s Constitution.

“The groups coming together in opposition of a constitutional convention don’t always see eye-to-eye,” said Hawaii Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira in a release Thursday. “However, we all recognize that Hawaii’s Constitution is one of the best in the country and a ConCon (Constitutional Convention) could very well weaken the rights and protections that we have today.”

The coalition, called Preserve Our Hawaii, includes many of Hawaii’s major unions, such as the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which is the state’s largest, and unions representing public school teachers, police and firefighters.

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, the Sierra Club of Hawaii and the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also have joined in the coalition, as has the Hawaii Democratic Party.

The coalition warns that mainland special interest groups could pour money into the process in an attempt to advance their agendas and that approving a constitutional convention could weaken protections for the environment, civil rights, Native Hawaiian rights, collective bargaining, public employee pensions and health care. A constitutional convention is estimated to cost $56 million, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

There doesn’t appear to be any comparable organized effort to drum up support for a constitutional convention, although individuals such as Sen. Laura Thielen and Ikaika Hussey, a magazine publisher and community advocate, have publicly expressed their support.

“A state constitutional convention is the time for citizens to discuss big ideas that create a brighter future for Hawaii.” Thielen wrote in a blog post earlier this month. “The opportunity for citizens to make sure government is working for all, not just a favored few. The only way citizens can require government to address chronic, difficult issues it ignores, pays lip service to, or seems incapable of resolving on its own,”

Thielen contends that a constitutional convention could be used to address the lack of affordable housing in Hawaii, make the Legislature abide by the Sunshine Law, which it has exempted itself from, and reform campaign spending laws.

Residents are given the chance to vote on whether to hold a state constitutional convention every 10 years. The last convention was in 1978 and ushered in major environmental protections, created the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and term limits for governor, as part of the three dozen amendments that were ultimately approved by voters.

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