Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, December 2, 2001

Districts have new
power pockets

If the balance of power shifts in Hawaii politics, it will come because of the work done by the state reapportionment commission.

Even at its most contentious, the work of the commission is decidedly unglamorous. The job of drawing the boundaries for Hawaii's 51 House and 25 Senate districts doesn't make for thrilling reading.

But, if all politics is local, then divvying up who gets what locality is the ultimate in local politics.

For instance, in blue-collar Democratic Palolo there is an interesting little bump in the House district lines. Maunalani Heights was tacked on to House Speaker Calvin Say's Palolo district. Also some of the bedrock Democratic areas below the H-1 Freeway were removed as the reapportionment commission struggled to expand some of the East Honolulu districts that have lost population in the last decade.

The boundary changes make Palolo a much more appealing district for a vigorous Republican who could wage a street-by-street campaign against Say.

While the commission was fiddling with Palolo it was also carving Republican Rep. Charles Djou out of his Windward district.

So left without a home base, the young, energetic, media-savvy attorney is considering a move. Besides Palolo, Djou is also looking at lieutenant governor and a possible opening in other East Honolulu districts.

While some will say that it is foolish for anyone to run against a powerful incumbent House speaker, there are others who remember that the late Tadao Beppu was one of the state's most powerful speakers, until he was beaten by a Republican. And Beppu was from Palolo.

Manoa is another district that should be Democratic, but with a little nibbling on the district lines, such as including Judd Hillside in the Manoa area and grabbing a bit of the exclusive lower Tantalus area, the district might go Republican.

The GOP is looking at their biggest increases to come from the Neighbor Islands, where they are projecting a possible win of four out of six House seats. Right now they have three seats.

By getting rid of the so-called "canoe districts" that are districts split between two islands, Kauai gets another House seat. With the extremely Republican Princeville area gaining more representation, there is a chance for a GOP candidate. Of course, Kauai is the graveyard of many a GOP legislative candidate and despite the Republican mayor, the Garden Island is the mostly solidly Democratic area in Hawaii.

Perhaps the GOP leadership's biggest worry is that so many Hawaii Republicans are Republicans because they enjoy swimming upstream. Republicans in a heavily Democratic state obviously like being contrary and they don't care to listen to anyone.

So the best tools for Republican party leadership to use when they want supporters to fall in line is a whip and chair.

For Democrats, one of the biggest worries will be how to share the riches. Both legislative chambers have more Democrats than Republicans, with the Senate being profoundly Democratic. So when the ideal political candidate, the enthusiastic, bright, articulate local resident looks around to run, there are not that many Democratic openings.

Jennifer Goto Sabas, an aide to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who is in charge of the state Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, says "we are accepting all comers and we a careful not to say 'There is no way you can run.'"

She adds, however, that the Democrats won't be put in a position of encouraging attacks on incumbents.

In comparison, the GOP is out there looking for dragonslayers and willing to back candidates who want to go up against Democratic incumbents.

Today the state House is only seven votes away from a GOP majority and after reapportionment, the Republicans are even more confident that by this time next year will be locked in debate -- picking the new Speaker of the House.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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