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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Election district lines
will be redrawn

MAY 1 is a crucial date in the battle to control future state legislatures.

That day a state Reapportionment Commission must convene to begin redrawing election district lines to match the new population figures of the year 2000 national census.

State Republican Chairwoman Linda Lingle seems off to a good start in winning maximum effectiveness for the GOP in these negotiations.

She has won agreement that her party's three senators and 19 lower house members will work as one to choose the four minority party members of the Reapportionment Commission. Democrats also will have only four.

There is a likely tie-breaking edge for the Democrats, however, in that the state Supreme Court, dominated by Democrats, will choose the chairman of the commission if the four Democratic and four Republican members fail to muster six votes to choose their own chairman.

We have a quite fair law on reapportionment, but edges have to go to someone. Thus, Democrats likely will come up with a pro-Democratic chairman.

Official Hawaii census figures for 2000 aren't expected until April. Lingle believes the figures will dictate fewer seats for urban Honolulu and additions for Central and Leeward Oahu and the neighbor islands.

Legislators themselves are unlikely to serve on the commission since those serving will be barred from running for office both next year and in 2004. Lingle won't serve either, since she intends to run for governor.

However, four tried and true Republicans will be sought to see that the district borders decided on give the GOP as much impact as possible. The GOP lower house delegation jumped from 12 to 19 in last November's election. Another seven seats would give the GOP a majority in the House, its first in 58 years. Conceivably the upcoming redistricting could influence the party balance for at least several seats.

The Reapportionment Commission must convene May 1. It will have 100 days, until Sept. 8, to develop new district maps for two U.S. congressional districts, the 25-member state Senate and the 51-member state House.

Since 1982 Hawaii has had only single-member districts. Returning to multi-member districts is an option I personally believe in. It seems to have little support, however. Chairwoman Lingle says the GOP is opposed.

AFTER 100 days, the commission must publish its proposals and set public hearings on them in each county. By the 150th day, Oct. 29, the commission must come up with the final plan that will fix Hawaii election district lines for 10 years.

The plan is final when filed, although it could be challenged in court.

While the commission deliberates, it will have the advantage of oversight by four-member advisory councils for each county chosen by the same legislators who choose the reapportionment commissioners.

Gerrymandering is a term used to describe odd-shaped election districts created to benefit a particular candidate or party.

Lingle thinks one such ribbon-shaped district was created on Maui 10 years ago to protect Joseph Souki, then the Democratic speaker of the House. Souki could face a differently shaped district next year if he seeks re-election.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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