Danny De Gracia: It’s Time For A Convention Of States

Hawaii is well-qualified to lead other states in a national convention.
Honolulu Civil Beat - August 26, 2019
Danny de Gracia

Having marked 60 years of statehood, despite challenges, our islands have been a place where one can find some of the newest ideas and innovations in policy, culture and social progress.
Hawaii’s state constitution, as a case in point, is one of the most modern, elegant and even poetically written social compacts in the United States.

The lessons Hawaii has learned as the newest state to enter the Union lend our people a unique perspective on the future of governance and the changing American experience since 1776.

Among both local Democrat and Republican candidates seeking federal office, this concept has frequently been heard over the years in campaign promises to “bring aloha to Washington,” but Hawaii’s state legislators already have the power in any given session to set this in motion with an application for an Article V convention of states.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides an option to propose amendments by way of “the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states” which results in a call for a constitutional convention.

Over the years, various Hawaii legislators have introduced concurrent resolutions in the House and Senate to apply for an Article V convention, but these often never get heard, or stall in committee or chamber of the Legislature.

Last session in the House, Rep. Amy Perusso introduced HCR 20 requesting a campaign finance amendment, and Rep. Sam Kong offered HCR 174 to limit the scope of the federal government.

In the Senate, Sen. Stanley Chang pitched SCR 42 to clarify the Second Amendment; Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced SCR 36 to mirror HCR 174; and Sen. Karl Rhoads saw the most success with a companion to Perusso’s HCR 20, SCR 131, which passed the Senate but never got heard in the House.

Dangerous Idea?

Much like the question over a local constitutional convention, an Article V convention is not without controversy or opposition. Nationally, establishment Democrats and Republicans have in general resisted “opening up the engine compartment” to states because of fears that radical ideological changes might occur with key rights being abolished or draconian measures being added.

Alternative approaches, such as interposition and nullification, where state legislatures choose to intentionally disobey or obstruct federal laws and regulations that they do not agree with, have also been offered as a competing approach to an Article V convention.

Ironically, the more vocal progressive and conservative activists, though disagreeing on policy, have been in agreement in the belief that an Article V convention is a useful and logical means for accomplishing change or reform in America.

A nightmare scenario among some, might be one where the First Amendment and Fourth Amendments are curtailed to give rise to a despotic national security state, or even one that increases the power of any one of the co-equal branches of government.

While any of those outcomes would be disastrous, it is important to remember that Article V proposed amendments do not have the force of law unless ratified by 38 states. Approaching reform with a fear-based hesitancy hinders the overall progress of society, because debate is an essential part of bringing out people’s true beliefs and addressing concerns.

Thirty-four state applications are needed to call a convention, and 38 states are needed to ratify any proposed amendments at a convention. So far, 15 states have passed qualified applications.

President Ronald Reagan, in discussing the authorship of the Constitution, told a group of students in 1988 that the first convention was one where delegates “often found themselves at odds, their purpose lost in acrimony and self interest” but amidst that, were still able to come together to create a better America. In the 21st century, we should have even more confidence in the kinds of positive outcomes that can emerge from considering different, new ideas.

Hawaii is special because even though we have experienced great discord and tension in political, cultural, and religious issues over the years, at the end of the day our people still respect one another and value each other.

Even the ongoing Mauna Kea dispute, which has been a source of frustration for many, still stands out as an amazing example of how locals can disagree but not tear apart a society over ideological differences.

Hawaii understands the environment in a much more intimate way than other places. We feel the effects of a global economy first before the rest of the country does. We have seen first-hand the awful effect of modern war. We have experienced waves of immigrants and seen the effects that large visitors can have on our way of life.

These experiences and many others are a perfect microcosm of the direction the entire country is headed in, and it makes Hawaii especially qualified to lead other states in seeking reform in our Federal government.

In the upcoming legislative session, we should strongly consider passing a concurrent resolution which calls for an Article V convention. Want to bring “aloha” to D.C.? Let’s lead the states in a call to get that convention.