HONOLULU (KHON2) — How to reduce corruption? That’s the question on many lawmakers’ minds following waves of scandals at both the city and state levels.
One possible solution? Setting a limit on how long individuals can serve.
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The senators and representatives at the Hawaii State Capitol don’t have any term limits. Wednesday the state’s Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct talked about how stopping terms after 10 or 12 years could impact how our state is governed.
“I think I’ve finally come around to the position where I think term limits would kind of shake up the process a little bit,” CISC member Barbara Marumoto said.
The idea is to bring new blood into our political landscape.
“The people in the power retain the power, and it’s not because — I don’t mean any disrespect to the people who hold those positions — but it’s not because they’re necessarily the best and brightest,” Former State Senator Gary Hooser said. “You have to be very competent to hold those positions. But it’s because of their longevity, it’s because of that money they have in the bank that no one is going to challenge them.”
It’s also kicking around the Honolulu City Council, where three resolutions are up to move term limits for councilmembers, the prosecutor, and the mayor to eight years total.
Currently, those positions can serve two consecutive four-year terms but they can then return as a candidate after an absence. The prosecutor was placed under term limits in 2020. Previous prosecutors include Peter Carlisle, who served for 14 years, and recently embattled Keith Kaneshiro for 17 years over two stints.
“Although term limits are a good idea in practice the results have been very problematic,” said Hawaii Pacific University Communications Professor John Hart. “For example, in one-party states with bicameral legislation, like Hawaii, you get a substitution effect. In another words when someone terms up for one office, they go to another office, so you don’t really get the turnover you’re expecting to.”
But Hart said there still is something voters can do about terms.
“Unfortunately, it turns out, they’re not a very good solution to a problem that’s a little more complicated than we think,” said Hart. “And we already have a solution in the ballot box — to vote against people that do more than one term.”
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The resolutions in the city council have passed their first reading with reservations.