A panel tasked with redrawing political boundaries in the state plans to move forward with a controversial redistricting plan that could pit incumbent lawmakers against each other and it’s already gotten widespread pushback from affected residents.
Members of the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to put forward its redistricting plan for public comment. The commission is planning to host meetings in November and December that would give the public the opportunity to weigh in on the proposals.
The commissioners would edit the plans as they go through the hearings process, and a final plan is due by February.
Before the decision Thursday, several of the commissioners said that their votes shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of the current plan, which was roundly criticized during more than two hours of public testimony.
“We all have certain aspects of this plan that we need to take another look at, and we will,” commission chairman Mark Mugiishi said.
About a dozen sitting lawmakers could be impacted by the current plans if there are no changes. While that political fight has been the backdrop of the reapportionment process so far, residents who testified to the commission on Thursday were interested in just keeping their communities together.
East Honolulu neighborhoods around Diamond Head, Kapahulu, Moiliili and Manoa would see the most change. In particular, Manoa would be split in half between two different districts.
Under the plan proposed by the commission, a House district that represents Kailua and Waimanalo would be changed to also wrap around Makapuu and include Portlock.
Roberta Mayer, chair of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, said that Kaiser High School and the neighborhood surrounding it would be pulled into that Windward Oahu district. Makapuu Point should be a natural boundary that separates districts on the two sides of Oahu, Mayer said.
Many testifiers, including the chairs of several neighborhood boards, backed an alternative redistricting plan proposed by Kailua resident Bill Hicks.
The “Hicks Plan,” as the proposal has been referred to, would avoid some of the House district changes that drew scrutiny at the last commission meeting.
Hicks said the guiding principle for his plan was to use Makapuu and Kaeana point as anchors.
His plan would see Waimanalo and Kailua stick together in one House district, while Portlock would remain in a district that includes Hawaii Kai. Manoa Valley, which is currently House District 23, would also remain intact.
He followed guidelines the commission set out for itself, such as following natural boundaries or permanent landmarks like highways, and tried to keep communities together.
The commission tried to apportion about 23,000 people per House district. Hicks’ plan gets closer to that target than the commission’s proposal does, according to population estimates generated by the state’s redistricting software.
Hicks says he doesn’t know if his plan would pit House representatives against each other in 2022. He said he did not consider political ramifications while drawing the lines.
“When you do that without any political calculus at all, you come up with something that makes more sense,” he said in an interview.
Michael Golojuch Jr. was one of the few testifiers who didn’t support Hicks’ proposal. Golojuch said it would have two districts cut through a Kaplolei suburb.
The plan would also eliminate the current House District 39, which covers areas near Moanalua and Salt Lake, and divide those neighborhoods into surrounding districts. Doing so was inevitable, Hicks said, because of population growth on the Leeward Coast.
The plan would also mix parts of Mililani, Kunia and Wahiawa together.
“Some of the ramification are always going to happen,” Hicks said. “But the basic fundamentals are to keep compact, contiguous districts that make sense and keep populations together. Let that be your starting point.”
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell