ConCon measure finds little support among voters

A proposal to convene a state constitutional convention was soundly defeated Tuesday night.

Every 10 years, voters are given the chance to decide whether to hold a state constitutional convention to consider reforms, create new rights or make other changes to the document that guides Hawaii’s governance. The last convention, held in 1978, ushered in major environmental protections, created the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and established term limits for governor as some of the three dozen amendments that were ultimately approved by voters.

Since then there has been little enthusiasm for convening another one. Opponents spent heavily this year to defeat the measure, arguing there is too much at stake to reopen the state Constitution to revision, particularly when it comes to protections for labor, the environment and Native Hawaiians. Some have also worried that money and special interests could unduly influence a convention.

Tuesday’s balloting showed continued resistance to a ConCon, with over 70 percent voting “no” or leaving the question blank, which counted as a “no” vote.

A ballot measure committee called Preserve Our Hawaii spent more than $600,000 in recent weeks on advertising urging a “no” vote on the measure. The coalition comprising powerful unions, business interests, environmentalists and others raised at least $740,000 to defeat it, according to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association donated $290,000, with other contributions coming from the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and National Education Association.

While contributions came heavily from unions, the coalition also included the Hawaii Democratic Party, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, Sierra Club Hawaii and Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, among others.

The powerful opposition to the 2018 ConCon measure mirrors the same interests that rallied the last time the question was posed to voters. In 2008 groups opposing a convention spent $1.4 million, campaign spending records show, while ballot measure committees supporting a convention spent just $6,000.

The convention measure was defeated 62 percent to 34 percent, with about 4 percent of voters leaving the question blank.

Supporters this year argued the state Constitution was meant to be periodically revised and that a convention could help restore trust in government and provide an opportunity to push forward reforms the Legislature has been reluctant to take up, such as campaign finance reform and establishing term limits for state legislators.

However, supporters lacked the kind of organized effort needed to persuade voters to say yes to a constitutional convention.

A simple majority of votes is required for the measure to pass.

Tax for schools

While meaningless after being struck down by the Hawaii Supreme Court last month, ballots were still tallied for a question asking voters whether they want to give the state the power to tax real property to support public education.

With most of the ballots counted Tuesday night, the votes were overwhelmingly against the measure.

The Supreme Court, in siding with Hawaii’s four counties, said the wording of the question wasn’t sufficiently clear. The ballot measure would have required an amendment to the Hawaii Constitution, and by law the wording of such initiatives must be “neither misleading or deceptive.”

Ballots had already been printed when the court issued its ruling. The amendment was backed heavily by the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

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