City and County vs. State
The Home Rule Issue
The Know Your City and County Study Committee
The government of Honolulu today is an extension of the monarchy (State) with sub-chiefs (County) that Kamehameha I had established by the time of his death in 1819. The system continued with an increasing admixture of New England ideals of good government introduced by the missionaries. By the end of the century, the haole business oligarchy exercised substantial power within the kingdom's structure. Property and income requirements for voting upheld that power. Because the monarchy's functions were so extensive, it could not adequately serve the fast-growing Honolulu. Local voluntary groups sprang up to fill the gaps. There was a developing rivalry between the Honolulu volunteers and the broader authority of the monarchy over who could do the best lob in such areas as public works and public protection.
Because Liliuokalani's persistent concern for the rights and powers of the Hawaiian thwarted the haole oligarchy's interests, the businessmen forced a revolution against the monarchy. Hawaii passed through a brief period as a republic and then became a U.S. territory in 1898. The first "charter" was the Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress. A Home Rule party developed in opposition to the haole oligarchy, which controlled the territorial government. The party wanted to leave the territorial government to those in power and to take over the governing of Oahu. At this time Honolulu's topsy-turvy growth also lent fire to the Home Rule movement.
Senatorial visitors to the new territory discovered that "remnants of the monarchy" (strongly centralized government) remained. The Senators threatened that Congress would impose the American ideal of Home Rule if the local government did not do so. The territorial legislature spent the next 7 years in half-hearted attempts to set up unworkable and illegal county governments. In 1905 the County of Oahu elected a Board of Supervisors and functioned without money or clearly defined duties. The territory was willing to grant many responsibilities, but no money. Then in 1909 the City and County of Honolulu replaced the County of Oahu with a "strong mayor' to provide a voice for the city of Honolulu, offsetting the power of the County's Board of Supervisors. The supervisors were elected at-large, because it was felt the districts would promote pork-barreling and would divide Honolulu into haole districts and Hawaiian-Portuguese districts.
On the City and County level Home Rule efforts in the next 50 years centered on becoming more independent of the territory and on smaller local units of government. Wahiawa and Kailua felt they should become separate entities since they were not adequately represented. There were several charter revisions, either approved or not by the territorial legislature. The appointed governor's veto meant the U.S. House of Representatives had to consider the proposed amendment.
However, statehood became the paramount Home Rule issue, achieved in' 1959. Amendment 19 to the Hawaii Constitution authorized each county to frame and adopt a charter for its own self-government within limits prescribed by general law and without the approval of the legislature.
The present City and County of Honolulu charter was adopted in 1959. The definition of Home Rule is self-government at the local level, with no possibility of that government's being legislated away by the state in the future. The only guarantee for self-government lies in a state constitution. So the "limits prescribed by general law" tell the story of how much power the state has been willing to give up.
The power theme of the monarchy and territory days still rankles, local boy vs. haole; outlying districts vs. Honolulu (a finer degree of Home Rule?); state taxation vs. City and County spending.