Hawaii's territorial Democratic Party convention of 1907 passed a resolution in favor of I&R, but until the 1950s the territorial government was dominated by Republicans who opposed the initiative process. After the Democrats gained power, however, most of them turned against I&R, and it was not included in the state constitution when Hawaii became a state in 1959. In the state’s 1978 constitutional convention, initiative advocates attempted to pass an amendment enacting I&R, but they were narrowly defeated.

Until 1982 the county of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, allowed initiative charter amendments, but not ordinances. State Senator Mary Jane McMurdo, who routinely sponsored bills in the legislature to get statewide I&R, led a campaign for a Honolulu initiative charter amendment to authorize citizens to pass ordinances by initiative. Voters approved it in November 1982 by a 55 percent margin, despite strong opposition from labor unions. Sen. McMurdo then led a drive for an initiative ordinance to save a block of moderate-income Honolulu apartments that were slated for destruction by high-rise builders. Voters approved this measure in 1984.

In 1986 McMurdo helped place another Honolulu initiative on the ballot, to prevent conversion of Fort DeRussy's 45 acres of mostly open space into a hotel - convention center complex. After a campaign in which pro-development forces spent $200,000, outspending initiative backers by a ratio of 20 to 1, voters turned it down. In 1988, Senator McMurdo and conservationists sponsored an initiative to restrict development at Oahu's Sandy Beach. This time, despite a campaign spending advantage by pro-development forces, voters passed the measure.

On the island of Kauai, voters approved an initiative in 1980 to stop construction of a hotel-condominium complex at Nukoli'i Beach, but the developer sponsored another initiative, which passed in 1984, to authorize completion of the half-built project.

Since 1984 there has been a tremendous amount of interest in trying to get the initiative process in Hawaii. However, the state legislature has remained openly hostile to its adoption.

See David Schmidt, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution (Temple University Press, 1989).

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