Summer 1997 Home   Newsletters

Fall 1997


President's Message (Jean Aoki)
Tom Grey of NCALG Coming to Hawaii
Education Committee Report
Web Page
State Board Actions
League Local News - Hawaii County
League Local News - Honolulu
League Local News - Kauai
National Domestic Violence Conference (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Cindy Spencer Receives Unsung Hero Award '97
National Convention
Reflections on Hawaii (Mary Anne Raywid)
Making Democracy Work Campaign Finance Reform (Toni Worst)
New York State Con Con Vote
Thank You!
Meet Your Board
Charter Schools (insert)
Hawaii's Bill of Rights (insert) (Ann Feder Lee)

Reflections on Hawaii

Governments are created to handle the interactions and affairs of strangers, not of friends and families where good will and informal understandings and agreements can be relied upon for regulation. Hawaii's challenge is, What kind of government does it take to govern the interactions of people who know one another and many of whom are friends and relatives? The ohana-like properties of public affairs here are surely a part of Hawaii's charm. But they also pose challenges in cancelling out the safeguards democracy promises!

The major guarantee our constitution provides against corruption in government or against one part of government overwhelming another, or against incompetent officials is our system of "checks and balances." These are the fundamental mechanisms upon which our governmental system depends for holding the multiple offices accountable to the rest of us. It is divided functions and what are in effect mutual oversight responsibilities that are supposed to protect us.

But when the officeholders who are supposed to be checking and balancing one another are relatives and friends, the assurances become less assuring. And of course the commitment to aloha and ohana don't help with the challenge. They exacerbate it. - As do strong cultural mores urging that any differences be settled quietly within the group, while maintaining a solid front in the presence of outsiders.

And geography complicates the problem still further. On the mainland, the existence of multiple jurisdictions assures that multiple "conversations" take place. It assures, for instance, that there will be school districts that are discussing things and considering possibilities that have no place on the state department of education's agenda. If fact, it is such supplementary conversations that fulfill the promise of a marketplace of ideas - and even more fundamentally, of freedom of thought. If one is exposed to nothing but the partyline, it is not surprising if teachers sound a lot like the DOF -- even while disassociating themselves from it.

It is not the diversity so prominent in local political rhetoric that is democracy's major challenge here. Quite the reverse: not plurality but its opposite. it is the monolithic character of governance arrangements, from the Legislature to the Department of Education to the party system. These are the major challenge to publicly accountable, democratic governance.

What's the solution? One answer might lie in creating supplementary agencies and arrangements such as individual school districts with the semi-autonomy of mainland districts, thus offsetting the monolithic DOE. Another might be the creation of an analog to the federal General Accounting Office, which is an independent agency that investigates questions and situations as requested by members of Congress to do so. Its Program Evaluation office has done a number of valuable studies on touchy subjects where bias might be a temptation if done by an education agency. another alternative might be increasing the staff of the State Auditor. Her office functioning as something of a "watchdog" agency and if staffed with experts in various areas might be able to function as a monitor of more than spending. But only the first of these three possibilities would assure the continuing generation of multiple conversations. It may be important to making democracy work here.

Mary Anne Raywid

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