Hawaii’s 2011 Reapportionment Commission has voted 8-1 to include non-resident military personnel and their families as well as sentenced felons and college students as part of political district populations.
The decision, if it stands after the commission takes its plan to residents statewide, would likely cost the Big Island a Senate seat it would otherwise gain due to population gains since 2001. The inclusion of the four groups is a departure from the decision made a decade ago.
“Just because it didn’t in the past doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done differently in the future,” said Republican Party chief Dylan Nonaka, a commission member who introduced the motion to use the U.S. Census count as the state’s redistricting population base. “I think in a lot of ways it was a wrong decision and this is maybe a chance for us to right a wrong.”
Advisory councils representing Maui and Kauai had advocated for extracting all the groups from the base, and the Big Island council had said to exclude military but include students. Oahu’s advisory council had recommended all groups be included.
The U.S. military presence on Hawaii is heavily concentrated on Oahu, as is the population of out-of-state students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa as well as Brigham Young University-Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University.
The commission will use the new population base count to divvy up seats among the islands. They’ll draw the districts and will take that plan to public meetings across the state. Ten years ago, the commission voted similarly to include military families. But strong negative feedback from the public caused it to reverse course.
The only commission member to vote against Tuesday’s proposal was Democrat Anthony Takitani, who is the only member to call a neighbor island home.
“The Census clearly shows that the growth in the state of Hawaii of permanent residents has taken place on the neighbor islands, enough so that the neighbor islands would be getting another Senate seat,” said Takitani, who is from Maui. “Now including military and their dependents, that seat will not be going to a neighbor island, will not be going from 28 percent of the state Senate to 32 percent of the state Senate, and we’ll be stuck with that for the next 10 years.”
Nonaka said he considers himself a neighbor-islander, having spent the vast majority of his life on neighbor islands. He said he was born and raised on the Big Island, and expects he’ll be back on a neighbor island soon — and eventually buried on a neighbor island.
Harold Masumoto, an Oahu Democrat who has served on previous incarnations of the panel and told Civil Beat previously he splits his time between Honolulu and the Big Island, was happy to have support from Republicans for a position he’d try to push before.
“The military really are a part of the community now. Things have changed from 20 years ago, 50 years ago when I was in the military. You were here temporarily,” he said. “But now, the military are an entirely different kind of military now. They’re all volunteers, and a lot of them I think, even if they’re on active duty here and we exclude them, they have an intent to remain here.”
The vote came after a 90-minute session behind closed doors. Commission Chair Victoria Marks, a retired judge, told Civil Beat after the vote that the commission had received a written opinion from the Attorney General’s Office but that she had no plans to release it to the public because of attorney-client privilege and because the panel’s already been threatened with a lawsuit.
Though she expressed support for and eventually voted in favor of the motion, Marks said she was concerned about a 2005 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that determined the Big Island should not have counted non-resident military when it decided its county council seats in 2001.
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