Reforming Government in a Recession

Djou on Politics

Tight fiscal times can force families and businesses to rethink how they work. Our government should do the same. The recent special election for the Windward Oahu City Council seat is a good example of how we can reform our government in a recession.

A few weeks ago, the voters in Windward Oahu elected a new city councilmember to replace Barbara Marshall, who passed away earlier this year after a long bout with cancer. This special election was mandated by law.

What made the special election unique was its exclusive use of mail-in ballots. In all previous special elections - such as the ones to replace Andy Mirikitani in 2002 - standard in-person ballot locations and procedures were used by the city clerk to conduct the election. In this Windward Oahu election, however, all registered voters were sent an absentee mail-in ballot and voting in person was not an option.

By using exclusive mail-in ballots, city taxpayers saved over $50,000 in the cost of staffing dozens of balloting locations.

This new, exclusively mail-in balloting procedure appears to have been warmly received by the voters. Over 25,000 voters turned in their ballots for the Windward Oahu special election. This represents more than a 45 percent voter turnout, a percentage in line with voter turnout for a typical election but far higher than turnout for any recent special election.

Increasing use of mail-in ballots may be the future of elections for selecting our government leaders. The far more important lesson, however, is that there isn't always the need to increase taxes to continue the same funding to provide for the same government service.

I have often found that in government, the force of inertia is extremely strong in bureaucracy. When times are good and tax revenues fill the public coffer, there is little incentive to reform or change the way the government conducts its operations. When times get tough, however, it becomes more difficult for the government to continue with the status quo. All too often, as is happening now, the response of Hawaii's government is to increase taxes to maintain the same level of funding for the government. I believe declining tax revenues can be a powerful force to reform government and compel needed changed in "typical" operations - the special election for the city council in Windward Oahu is a perfect example. By adopting an all mail-in special election, the city saved money and increased special election voter turnout, all at a lower cost to taxpayers.

All of Hawaii's families and businesses are struggling to cope with our economic downturn. Just as families and businesses are finding new ways to cope with this recession, so should government. Raising taxes to allow the government to continue to just do the same thing is never the best solution; instead, we should use this current recession as an opportunity to revise and reform the way our government thinks and works.

Councilmember Djou represents the 4th Council District (Waikiki to Hawaii Kai). Outside of the City Council, Charles serves as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, and is an adjunct professor of law at Hawaii Pacific University.