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State reapportionment map still a work in progress

Rep. Bob Herkes points to a change in the state House boundaries. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The draft map presented to Big Islanders by the State Reapportionment Commission last week drew fire, but commissioners said it’s not finalized yet.

The commission scheduled two public hearings last week on the Big Island – the 10th and 11th in a series of 13 across the state. The commission now has until Sept. 26 to tweak the map.

The commission is convened every 10 years and, based on the most recent Census, determines district boundaries for state legislative district.

Attorneys at both the Hilo and Kona meetings said the current draft violates the state Constitution and unduly benefit Oahu, which has the largest number of military and college student populations.

Stan Roehrig and Bob Kim represent Sen. Malama Solomon and several members of the Democratic Party and are prepared to file a petition for judicial review with the Hawaii Supreme Court.

At the Wednesday, Sept. 14 meeting in Kona, two of the nine commissioners were in attendance — Dylan Nonaka, a former Oahu resident who last month returned home to Hilo, and Anthony Takitani, the one official neighbor island commissioner. Chairwoman Victoria Marks attended the Tuesday meeting in Hilo, but did not appear in Kona.

With about two dozen members of the public in attendance, the Kona meeting drew the second biggest crowd. Hilo recorded the largest attendance in the state.

The Hawaii State Constitution requires only permanent residents be counted. However, the Constitution does not specifically define ‘permanent resident.’

The major sticking issue for the commissioners – and especially for Big Island voters – is whether to count only permanent residents, how to define a permanent resident of Hawaii and how to best extract them from the total state population determined by the 2010 Census.

If military personnel and college students are omitted, the numbers tip in the Big Island’s favor and could result in a fourth Senate seat and at least one additional Representative seat. An additional House seat also would be allocated to Maui.

Oahu would lose those seats, if about 20,000 non-permanent residents were dropped from the population count. Excluding all students and military personnel would mean Oahu loses more than 78,500 residents.

However, omitting non-permanent residents – including military personnel and students who often only stay in Hawaii until they are transferred or graduate – is a difficult task, commission staff said.

The commission is mulling three alternatives to its original draft map:

At Wednesday’s Kona meeting, Kim told the commissioners he is prepared to fight for the exclusion in court.

“The current plan as drafted is unconstitutional on its face,” Kim said. “And that’s not just our opinion. We’re not trying to denigrate this vote. It’s in the Constitution.”

Kim noted the commissioners also violated their own standards and criteria by including the total Census population.

After the meeting, Commissioner Dylan Nonaka said he understands the state Constitution, but also sees how military personnel and students can be deemed permanent residents as they use public facilities and contribute to the community.

Nonaka also noted the tight schedule plotted out for the commission.

“We have new information now that we didn’t have when we drafted this,” he said. “It’s the timeline. It’s really a victim of procedure. It’s also a public policy question that the Legislature needs to address. I’m all for a fourth Senate seat on the Big Island.”

The commission has a mandatory deadline of Sept. 26 to adopt the final plan and fill it with the state’s Chief Elections Officer, who must publish that plan within 14 days.

The final plan then will be submitted to the state Legislature for approval.

Currently, the Big Island has three Senate seats and seven House seats. The population has increased 24.5 percent between 2000 and 2010, compared to Oahu’s 8.8 percent growth.

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On Monday, Sept. 19, Sen. Josh Green testified before the State Reapportionment Commission. Below is his full testimony:


My name is Josh Green. I am a physician and legislator on the Big Island. Let me start by acknowledging that this commission has a very challenging and important job before it.

The fact that it is challenging, does not however, make it immune from state law or scrutiny.

Presently redistricting considerations for a 4 Senate district map for the Big Island (should it be approved by the commission or mandated by the courts) are being hijacked behind closed doors by a small group of individuals and no information is being given to the public. It was suggested to me today by Mr. Nonaka that this map might never be discussed publicly. When I asked how that was possible, he concisely stated, with a 4 seat map, ‘You’ll just be F#%k$d’. His words, not mine. This obviously caused me to have some concern for the people of West Hawaii.

Most concerning however, is a serious violation of the law.

I have learned that the plan is to gerrymander a district which will specifically benefit a former Senator, Lorraine Inouye so she won’t have to run against an incumbent Senator in Waimea next year. It places Waimea into the West Hawaii district and removes all of South Kona from West Hawaii.

By gerrymandering the districts in this way, Kona will be split in half. This is poison to the entire West Hawaii Community and runs counter to the expectations of every citizen in that region.

These actions will also carve out a new district in south Kona/Kau, ostensibly for one of the members of the commission, Mr. Nonaka, or for his mother to run in.

I need to point out that redistricting in this way, to directly favor specific individuals is ILLEGAL.

If this secretive approach to reapportionment continues over the final days of this commission’s work, there will be immediate legal action taken against those committee members who conspired to gerrymander the Big Island districts to benefit specific candidates, with the result of displacing many thousands of Big Island voters. Individuals will be placed under oath and then the process will be explored fully.

Let me be clear, the people of Kona will not tolerate their community being politically divided in half, to serve someone’s agenda behind closed doors.

Sen. Josh Green

(Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

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