Civil Unions, Civil Rights
By Jean Aoki and JoAnn Maruoka
First, we need to tend to some unfinished business. In 1998, when confronted by the controversy over the proposed "marriage amendment" which would give the legislature the power to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, while we did not have a position on marriage between same-sex couples, we did have positions against discrimination. Our National League's position on equality of opportunity encompassing equal rights and equal access to Education, Employment and Housing, applies to "all persons, regardless of their race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation or disability." Civil rights do not discriminate. As part of a coalition, we did our best to beat the amendment but lost miserably. Last session, both legislative houses passed HB 444 relating to same-sex civil unions, but it was vetoed by then-Governor Lingle. We feel that this is the year for such a bill. Civil rights for everyone should have no opposition. Not in Hawaii.
Redistricting remains one of the important processes to be undertaken by all states and counties this year following the 2010 census. One of the fundamental reasons for conducting the decennial census of the US population is to reapportion the US House of Representatives. Apportionment is the process of dividing the 435 seats among the 50 states.
Hawaii divides the state into two approximately equal congressional districts, with the larger part of Oahu making one district, and the rest of Oahu and the other three counties comprising the second district. For the legislative districts, we need to reapportion our 25 Senatorial districts and the 51 House districts among the four counties, depending on the growth or loss of population in each district.
Hawaii Reapportionment Commission
The reapportionment process as spelled out in our Hawaii State Constitution calls for the appointing authorities – the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the leaders of the minority caucuses – to each make two selections, and the resulting eight commissioners pick the ninth commissioner who serves as the chair. As provided in the Constitution the selection process seems fair and workable. In reality, it does not guarantee independent and objective commissioners drawing district lines strictly following the guidelines set out by our constitution.
Redistricting Is Part of the Electoral Process
We want our citizens to be secure in the knowledge that they are not being manipulated in their right to select their representatives to government. This is not an anti-incumbent sentiment; there are many incumbents we would hate to lose. Rather, we are rooting for a pro-democracy principle that all qualified citizens have the right to run for office with a reasonable expectation of a level playing field. Also, voters should be able to expect a choice of qualified candidates. Isn't that the reason for elections?
We and members of our coalition of good government groups will be asking the appointing authorities for our Reapportionment Commission members to consider having members of the public apply for a seat on the Commission.
One of League's main interests is that of ensuring the integrity of elections, the one control our citizens have over government. From the constitutional provisions for suffrage and elections to our election laws, to the adequate funding of the Elections Office and oversight by the Election Commission, to the actual preparations for and the execution of our elections, we need to see that our right to vote is protected and that each vote is counted.
To help boost our Hawaii voter participation numbers, Same-Day Registration should be incorporated in our electoral system. Until then, any elections bill should be amended to allow for registration at the early-voting sites, which operate for about two weeks before elections and end a few days before elections. To the oft-repeated objections because of the lack of time to incorporate the registrations into the poll books in time for Election Day, a possible remedy is supplementary poll books to hold the late registrations.
In fall 2010, voters in Hawaii opted for a change that would allow the governor to nominate members of the Board of Education. Since Hawaii’s education system is statewide, Hawaii’s governor is the one who would logically be given enough power to be held accountable. The enabling legislation should allow the governor to choose whomever he wants, subject only to Senate confirmation. To allow full fiscal accountability, the legislature should provide a lump-sum budget for education, rather than functioning as a super school board through the current budget process that specifies how education funds are to be spent.
Fighting the Undermining of Democracy
As we continue to fight for transparency, government accountability, citizen access, financial disclosures to stem conflicts of interest, there are challenges and roadblocks.
The US Supreme Court decision of January 21, 2010 in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission rejected long-standing corporate and union political spending limits, and concluded that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech. Polls show that organizations, scholars and citizens throughout the nation found the landmark ruling tragic and deplorable. Our National League president testified in Congress that the decision “is constitutionally irresponsible and will surely bring about an anti-democratic revolution in how we finance elections in this country... the basic pillars of American democracy have been undermined – that elections should not be corrupted by vast corporate wealth and that the voters should be at the center of our democratic system.” In the 2010 midterm election, we certainly witnessed the effects of the Citizens United decision in the torrent of nontransparent independently-funded campaign ads, many of them extremely negative.
Until Congress can come up with legislation to overcome the negative aspects of the Citizens United decision favoring corporate “citizens”, we must work to ensure fairness in the interest of human citizens. This is one of the reasons we continue to strongly support such initiatives as public funding of election campaigns.
Making democracy work will always be the League's guiding motivation.
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii is a multi-issue, all-volunteer organization, and our emphases may differ from year to year depending on where the greatest need is. We have operated on the premise that we address issues where we can have the greatest impact, especially for basic policies and principles important to the workings of democracy. Jean Aoki and JoAnn Maruoka sit on the league's legislative committee.