Sunday, August 12, 2001

Redistricting plan
serves partisan aims

The issue: The state Reapportionment
Commission has given preliminary approval
to a Democratic plan that would help
some legislators and hurt others.

WAYNE Minami, chairman of the state Reapportionment Commission, says he expects the commission's redistricting formula will be challenged in court, and proponents of fair elections should not disappoint him. The highly partisan method of redrawing lines for state legislative districts should be struck down as unconstitutional, on several grounds.

The underlying theme of the design seems aimed at protecting some legislators and getting rid of others. This, of course, violates the state constitutional provision that lines for the 51 state House districts and 25 Senate districts not be drawn to unduly favor a person or political party. The commission made clear its decision to ignore that requirement by indicating incumbent legislators' homes on initial maps used to draw district lines, some of which wriggled around those important dots.

To accomplish the task of dishing out rewards or punishment, the commission violated other criteria it was supposed to follow. Those include a 1992 state constitutional amendment that excludes nonresident military dependents, estimated at 41,430, from the population equation. Those dependents normally vote by absentee in their home districts in other states. The commission chose to count them in the population, which gave Oahu two House districts that properly should go to Maui and the Big Island.

Another constitutional provision that the commission decided to disregard is a prohibition against "canoe" districts - putting parts of two counties in the same district. The commission's plan puts Oahu's Mokuleia and part of Kailua into the same Senate and House districts as Hanalei, Kauai. Hana, Maui, and Puna, Hawaii, would share House and Senate districts.

Minami's rationale is that federal requirements take precedence over state rules. Federal courts have ruled that population differences of more than 10 percent between the smallest and largest districts violate the one-person-one-vote requirements of federal law. However, differences of as much as 16 percent are allowed when justified by rational state objectives. Avoiding canoe districts certainly qualifies as such.

"I believe that the use of canoe districts is unfair, unpopular, unworkable, unconstitutional and, worst of all, unnecessary," said Jim Hall, a Republican commission staff advisor.

Republicans were livid and had every reason to be. They had come up with a plan that avoided canoe districts and excluded from the population base nonresident military dependents, but it was rejected.

The commission, with a majority of Democrats, approved the Democratic plan, 5-4, along party lines. Its plan is subject to public hearings throughout the islands next month, and Republicans are urging testimony against the plan. The commission must adopt a plan by Oct. 4 for submission to the Legislature.

Hawaii must be vigilant
about clean ocean water

The issue: An environmental group
says the state's ocean quality standards
are among the strictest in the nation.

The cleanliness of the ocean waters surrounding the islands is of vital importance to Hawaii's cultural, recreational and economic needs. So there is some satisfaction that a survey by an environmental organization gives the state good marks for its efforts in monitoring of water quality at its beaches and alerting the public when there are health concerns. It is essential that governmental agencies as well as the public maintain this vigilance.

A state Department of Health sign warning of
debris and diesel fuel at a Kauai beach.

The survey by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that only Guam and 11 states including Hawaii monitored their beaches at least once a week and notified the public when water conditions were unsafe. A record number of pollution-related beach closures and swimming advisories were reported nationwide. Much of the increase -- 11,270 incidents in 2000 compared to 6,160 in 1999 -- was the result of increased monitoring, stricter testing standards and better reporting.

Beach closures and advisories in Hawaii last year numbered 15 compared to two in 1999. Eight of those incidents occurred in Hilo after heavy flooding caused sewage overflows; others were due to oil spills on Kauai. The NRDC noted that Hawaii's bacteria standard was one of the strictest in the nation, but faulted the state for leaving decisions about closings and advisories up to the counties. The state Department of Health says sewage programs are county responsibilities so each county is given the authority to handle such incidents.

Although sewage spills are a major concern, the Health Department says controlling other pollution sources are just as important in maintaining the health of ocean waters. Among them are soil-runoff contaminants such as fertilizers and toxic substances from motor oil, gasoline, paint, pesticides and herbicides. These are harmful not only to humans, but to sea life, and government can't do it all.

Everything washed down the drains or storm sewers from Manoa to Malaekahana to Maili ends up in the ocean. Every soda can tossed into the sea, every cigarette butt discarded along the shoreline, every plastic bag blown into the waves damages the quality of the ocean despite the corrosive effect of salt water. Keeping the waters clean is the obligation of everyone who values swimming at Ala Moana beach, surfing at Makaha, fishing at Pokai Bay, blessing a pahu at Kualoa and selling sandy Waikiki strolls to tourists.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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