By Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, Rep. Beth Fukumoto, Rep. Richard Lee Fale and Rep. Lauren (Cheape) Matsumoto
The heart of a strong democracy is built on a commitment to provide people the opportunity to voice their opinions. The same democratic system that gives legislators a platform to debate is designed to provide at least that level of opportunity to the very people government is intended to serve. But the upcoming special session to address same-sex marriage will likely deny that opportunity to many.
No matter where public opinion lies, every person who wants to have a say in his or her government should be given a chance to be heard. Yet, the governor’s proposed bill may only be heard in a single joint committee, and the public will not have time to fully and openly debate this complex issue. Perhaps conversations will take place behind closed doors, but that’s not what democracy is supposed to be. This should worry anyone who hopes for a better future for Hawaii.
As legislators age 33 and younger, who come from a generation disenchanted with politics, we believe that openness, transparency and maximum public debate are the only way to restore faith in the democratic process.
When our generation looks to government, large numbers of young people feel disenfranchised or apathetic because they see too much happening behind closed doors. They wonder whether government is listening to them and whether they can actually make a difference. They routinely question whether the policy decisions made by government are merely a foregone conclusion. A truncated session will only reaffirm that notion.
One of the foremost reasons that all of us ran as Republicans, largely against the status quo, was to ensure that there was some guarantee of open, transparent debate in our state government. Irrespective of one’s political affiliation, open and public debate on any issue that affects us all is in everyone’s best interest.
Proponents have argued that this issue has already been debated for 20 years and that everything that there is to discuss has already been discussed. Though this issue may be settled in the minds of many politicians, the volume of calls and emails to our offices would indicate that the issue is not settled in the minds of the public.
It should be noted that much of the public and many current legislators were children when this debate began. In fact, only one of us was eligible to vote in 1998 when a constitutional amendment on this issue was considered. The voices of our generation should matter, too.
As young representatives of our districts and our generation, we want to be fair to the public by ensuring that government serves its people both thoughtfully and responsively. We were inspired to run for office by a deep desire to see everyday people more involved in a transparent process and will continue to advocate for openness on this and many other important issues.
Whether or not same-sex marriage draws sufficient support to pass, people of all ages and backgrounds should be welcomed to participate.
Despite what established politicians have tried to conclude, this issue has not been settled. The public deserves ample time and respect from the system whose sole purpose is to serve them.