May 1996 Home   Newsletters

June 1996

July-August 1996

President's Message (Astrid Monson)
Council Decision of Con Con (Jean Aoki)
Human Resources Project Progress Report (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Excerpts from "Financing the United Nations" (Donald S. Grubbs Jr.)
Transportation (Arlene Ellis)
Board Summary
Election Volunteers
Saunders Endowment to Support Lifelong Learning
Roster Changes

President's Message

This summer the League of Women Voters will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding. How many other national organizations have held together for so long a time, rather than breaking up into factions or suffering major differences as between their national, state, and local levels, or going out of business entirely?

This has not happened by chance. From the beginning League was intended to be a grass roots organization, with its policies and programs determined, not by its officers or Boards of Directors, but by its members. Decisions on issues to be studied, positions to be taken, programs to be developed, and political actions to be taken begin at the membership level and are coordinated so as to be sure that League speaks with one voice. The result is that we are taken seriously and respected.

Of course this procedure creates problems as well. It is cumbersome. It takes time to study both sides of an issue and create a consensus among ourselves on what position to take. Individual members may disagree, or may be tempted to go off on their own on matters about which they feel intensely but on which League either has no position or where it differs from what they would want it to be. But to speak in the name of the League, a member is obligated to state the organization's position, not her own.

The usual procedure we follow locally involves:

  1. The appropriate standing committee decides whether a specific issue is of general interest to our members, has island-wide or other broad implications, sets a precedent or affects future policies, etc.

  2. We gather information on the actual details of what is being proposed and its pros and cons. We research the issue's history, we analyze alternatives, we confer with others involved, we make sure we understand the implications of whatever position we may take.

  3. Within the general framework of existing positions at our National, State and local levels, the committee drafts a recommended position on the specific issue.

  4. We testify and take other action to persuade governing agencies and decision-makers to agree with our position. We lobby for it, speak before other organizations, write Letters to the Editor, etc.

  5. Rarely, and when an issue is of paramount importance, we resort to litigation.

The story of our opposition six years ago, to the City's rail transit proposal might be interesting. For ten or more years our Transportation Committee had followed the evolution of this proposal through various versions (heavy rail, light rail, 23 miles long, or 16, or 7, etc.). Some of the committee's members strongly supported it, others just as strongly opposed it. No consensus was reached.

At our December 16, 1989 Program Planning meeting, Mildred Walston, a member of the Transportation Committee, argued that since the issue was now coming to a head, it was important for Honolulu League to decide what to do. She suggested that a special task force be named to work on the issue and make its recommendations to the membership.

The membership agreed. A relatively new member, Pat Tummons, volunteered to head up the Task Force. For the Task Force, she chose a number of members who were equally divided among those who favored the rail proposal and those who opposed it.

National League's position was to favor public mass transit as an alternative to ever increased use of the automobile and highway construction, but did not specify the kind (mode) of mass transit buses, trolleys at grade, grade-separated guideways, subways or elevated, heavy rail or light rail etc., leaving this to be decided in terms of different local circumstances.

The Task Force made a thorough study of all possible mass transit alternatives suitable for a population of under a million. When it became clear that the Task Force could not agree, the pro-rail members wrote up the arguments they wanted to present to the membership, and the opponents did the same. The Task Force itself made no decision pro or con. It was therefore felt necessary to submit the matter to the membership to see whether consensus could be achieved. National LWV defines consensus as "agreement among a substantial number of members, representative of the membership as a whole, reached after sustained study and group discussion. It is not just a simple majority, nor necessarily unanimity."

Next, both statements were submitted to Pat Tummons, who edited and coordinated them. In April, 1990, League published the results as a 23 page single-spaced report entitled "Arguments for and Against a Rail Transit System". This was distributed to the membership and discussed thoroughly at our Annual Meeting of April 14, 1990 and again at a special meeting April 30, 1990. A Consensus Meeting was scheduled for May 18,1990.

A "Membership Preparation Package for Possible Rail Transit Consensus" was distributed to all members. This included a questionnaire to be answered by those who could not attend the consensus meeting.

Both the members present at that meeting, and the questionnaires, showed an overwhelming majority favoring an enlarged and expanded bus transit system over the rail proposal. Only a scant handful favored the latter. The draft consensus statement was adopted and discussed at the board meeting June 6, 1990. It became the basis of our testimony from that time on. It follows:

"The proposed fixed guideway rail system's high costs are not justified by the almost meaningless reduction in traffic that it can be expected to bring. Giving drivers incentives to take The Bus or to car pool; giving them disincentives to use their cars; making better, more efficient use of buses; and providing additional buses will reduce traffic congestion by a comparable (or higher) degree – and will do it in a manner that is far less costly and disruptive, more socially equitable, and more quickly realized.

"If needs, technology, or demography changes, rail may be reconsidered and judged appropriate at some future date. For now, however, for the reasons cited above, the League of Women Voters of Honolulu views the proposed rail system with disfavor."

The rest is history. The City Council rejected the rail system by a 5 to 4 vote. In view of today's financial problems at all levels of government, it was the right decision.

Astrid Monson

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