Friday, October 5, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

panel predicts it will
miss deadline

More hearings are expected
to discuss 2 alternative maps

By Pat Omandam

State Reapportionment Commission Chairman Wayne Minami said the panel will miss its constitutionally mandated Oct. 26 deadline to adopt a new redistricting map for the state's 76 legislative districts.

That's because he expects the bipartisan panel will hold another series of statewide public hearings to get comment on two other possible maps: one that does away with multi-island or "canoe" districts, and another that redraws political boundaries excluding the 53,261 nonresident military dependents who now are part of the population base used to equally divide the districts.

"If the choice is to just come out with a plan and adopt it, then I'm willing to say we're going to do it right, and we're going to come up with a plan and take public hearings," Minami said after yesterday's commission meeting.

"The final product, even if it is past the deadline, should be a better product as a result of the process we followed," he said.

The nine-member commission's willingness to consider literally going back to the drawing board signals a possible shift on the panel.

On Aug. 9, the four Republican-appointed commissioners voted against the current plan because it included the nonresident military dependents. But the five-member Democratic majority won, and that plan was taken to public hearings this past month.

Minami would not say yesterday if someone in the Democratic majority had switched position, only that there was strong bipartisan support, especially from neighbor-island residents, to exclude those military dependents from the population base.

Neighbor-island residents, especially those on Maui, strongly opposed their inclusion, and some had threatened legal action if those dependents were kept in the final reapportionment plan.

Commissioner Deron Akiona, a Republican appointee, said yesterday he is concerned including those dependents may jeopardize millions of dollars in federal impact aid to Hawaii because the state would consider them permanent residents.

The commission will vote next Thursday on a motion to exclude the military dependents.

Also yesterday, the commission ordered its technical committee to come up with a new plan for possible approval Thursday that eliminates the eight canoe districts now in the proposed redistricting map. Commissioners were never happy with the use of canoe districts and want to see if they can remove them by confining districts to four basic island groups, Minami said.

Reapportionment Project Manager David Rosenbrock explained this is possible because under the current plan requiring canoe districts, the counties would have enough constituents to qualify for only one-half a House seat each. Additionally, Kauai and Hawaii would be left with a constituent base qualifying each for one-fourth of a Senate seat.

Rosenbrock said if Kauai and Hawaii counties give up that one-fourth Senate seat, they each would gain a full House seat. Conversely, if Oahu and Maui give up their one-half House seat, they each would gain a full Senate seat.

"In this way, combined representational equality is maintained among the counties, and canoe districts are eliminated," Rosenbrock said.

The public has asked the commission not to consider where incumbents live when it once more redraws the legislative maps. Minami, however, said he sees nothing wrong with knowing where legislators live and does not see the panel's role as eliminating incumbents.

Minami said that if possible, he wants to avoid having major changes in district lines because many residents would then end up going to different polling places with unfamiliar candidates and incumbents.

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