Stirred by the governor’s unilateral proclamation for a special session, public debate regarding same-sex marriage has raged in Hawaii for barely more than a month now. While debate has (rightly) focused on the merits of same-sex marriage, there has been no conversation about the possible outcome of the special legislative session that the governor and other proponents desire.
The five-day special session is an exercise that procedurally neuters public input by: a) Reducing the number of committee hearings from four to one joint; b) Drastically shortening the vetting period for legislation from 60 to only five days; and c) Ignoring all public comment on substantive ways to improve the current language. History has shown great distrust in government when they take shortcuts around public testimony, and this same history shows breeches of this trust becoming more habitual.
When did this last happen? State Rep. Mark Takai said that the most recent occurrence ” … undermin(ed) democracy by overriding existing procedures and safeguards and cuts out participation by the public.” Kauai Councilman and former state legislator Gary Hooser commented that it “was created by the Legislature in a manner that at best was unprincipled and at worst corrupt and illegal.” He was particularly critical of controversial language that received one (rather than four) public hearing(s).
Columnist David Shapiro observed, “Incredibly, legislation of such magnitude passed with little notice and without full public hearings.” Against public wisdom, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Legislature created the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC), only to repeal less than two years later.
Perhaps a fairer comparison would be to examine the special session surrounding the infamous Hawaii Superferry. The administration attempted to exempt the Superferry from environmental review and the Legislature went into special session to save the Superferry. The courts later found that the rash actions of the governor and the Legislature were unconstitutional — and the Superferry literally sailed off into the sunset.
The lessons of the past were summed up well when Shapiro wrote, “And the elected officials responsible for this ham-handed exercise in back-door democracy wonder why the public doesn’t trust them.”
While the Superferry and the PLDC technically followed the rules of procedure, they failed to benefit from a proper vetting by the public. Regardless of how you feel regarding the issue of same-sex marriage, our current course shows that we are doomed to repeat history. Whether our churches are trampled upon, or proponents must wait longer for same-sex marriage, no one stands to win from this special session. Let’s learn from history before we repeat it.
State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai Kalama Valley) is a former Democracy Officer at USAID, Washington, D.C.; state Rep. Bob McDermott (R, Ewa Beach) is a former Marine captain who served in the Gulf War.