Kailua resident Bill Hicks’ proposal to redraw legislative districts in the state seems to check all the boxes for a good redistricting plan.

For the most part, it keeps Oahu neighborhoods together and doesn’t have districts that cross natural boundaries like mountains or span two separate islands. Hicks’ plan also does a better job of hitting target populations for Oahu House and Senate districts than a plan put forward by the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission.

“My objective is to go by the numbers and do what makes sense, and make that a starting point for the fine tuning process,” Hicks said.

But his plan would also have at least six lawmakers run against each other if it were approved. Hicks said that he did not take any political ramifications into consideration while putting together his proposal for Oahu House and Senate seats.

Fitting together legislative districts may be like solving a puzzle for the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission, which kicks off two weeks of public hearings starting Tuesday. Screenshot

Hicks is one of four Hawaii residents who drew up proposals for House and Senate districts. Those plans could be among proposals the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission considers during public hearings in the next two weeks.

The commission will weigh numerous issues like political impacts, the proportion of legislative districts and how communities fit into each district.

Starting Tuesday, the commission will meet virtually with residents from each island to take their proposals for legislative redistricting. Those proposals will factor into a final plan that a group of commissioners is expected to draft in December.

The commission’s proposal has already drawn fire, with residents saying it splits neighborhoods in awkward ways and some lawmakers accusing the commissioners of gerrymandering.

At least five Oahu neighborhood boards have called for alternative plans.

Hicks sees the commission’s work as a puzzle to be solved. Fitting in similar communities while also trying to keep populations between districts about equal.

“You’re going to be forced into where you make those connections, like a jigsaw puzzle,” Hicks said. “Rather than a straight line, you add in a little nob because that keeps the neighborhood together.”

The redistricting process has also raised another question this year: is it possible to reapportion legislative districts without some kind of political fallout?

“No,” commissioner Dylan Nonaka said. “The answer is no.”

No Plan Is Perfect

Whether by political orchestration or happenstance, some politicians or neighborhoods are bound to end up with the short stick once reapportionment is over.

Four pairs of incumbent House lawmakers and two Big Island senators would have to face off in the 2022 elections under the plan the commission will present to the public in December. 

In 2012, the reapportionment commission had to redo its plans after the Hawaii Supreme Court determined that the commission undercounted non-resident military in its population estimates. In the end, Oahu lost a Senate seat, setting up a race between Carol Fukunaga, who at the time was a state senator, and Sen. Brian Taniguchi.

Six House representatives also had to face off that year.

But in Hicks’ view, those political consequences shouldn’t be considered.

“The state constitution is straightforward,” Hicks said. The process “is based on making districts in equal proportions. It should be as compact and contiguous as possible. It should keep socioeconomic interests together as much as possible. Nowhere does it say, it should be as politically expedient or politically convenient as practicable.”

House adjourns the special session at the legislature.
Each House district should have a population of about 27,000 with 55,000 people in each Senate district. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Hicks’ initial goal was to take Portlock out of a House and Senate district that represents Waimanalo and Kailua, where he lives. The commission’s proposals would lump Portlock in with those two neighborhoods.

Hicks redrew every Oahu legislative district, and was surprised at the results.

Officials in charge of reapportionment this year have set a target population of 27,000 for each House district and 55,000 in each Senate district. Hicks plan does a better job of meeting those population targets, with a total deviation between districts of about 2% compared to the commission’s 7.9% deviation in a plan that won preliminary approval in October.

However, Hicks’ plan is not without political consequences. Starting the House and Senate districts at Makapuu would push Windward Oahu districts northward while Central Oahu districts would need to move south.

The result is a redrawing of lines that would pit three incumbent senators on Oahu against their colleagues. Hicks said he did not take into account those kinds of political matchups when he drew his plans.

He also acknowledged that some communities may have been split up, and that he’s less familiar with neighborhoods in Leeward Oahu. He views his plan as more of a starting point.

“My plan isn’t perfect, and no plan would ever be perfect,” Hicks said.

Keeping Communities Together

Under the Hicks plan, Wahiawa would have to join a mostly North Shore district, setting up a possible race between Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Gil Riviere.

Dela Cruz declined to comment specifically on Hicks plan since it hasn’t been formally adopted, but said he’s glad citizens are getting involved in the reapportionment process.

Dela Cruz said neighborhoods and communities are bound to be split between multiple districts eventually because it’s difficult to predict when and where new housing would be built.

“I think that happens every 10 years no matter what,” Dela Cruz said. “Who can predict the exact locations of population growth and decline?”

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said it’s tough to predict where population will grow in the state. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

As an example, he cited Koa Ridge, a new suburb in Waipio. The development was planned in the mid-1990s, but families didn’t start moving in until last year, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The timing of residents moving to Koa Ridge factored into the Honolulu Reapportionment Commission’s decision to move Mililani and parts of Waipio into District 8, which now covers Aiea, Pearl City and parts of Waipahu.

Closer to town, the lines near Salt Lake would be redrawn in such a way that puts Sen. Glenn Wakai out of his current district representing parts of Salt Lake, Aliamanu and Kalihi into Sen. Donna Kim’s district, which covers mauka areas from Halawa to Kalihi valley.

Wakai said he prefers the current proposal from the Reapportionment Commission which would expand his district to cover military housing over Pearl Harbor while retaining neighborhoods around Salt Lake.

He already has military constituents, and says it makes sense to represent most of the military housing on the Pearl Harbor waterfront.

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki also wants to keep neighborhoods together.

The Hicks plan would separate her block of Kakaako from the rest of the neighborhood and put it in a mostly Downtown and Chinatown district.

“I would be concerned because you are now splitting up communities, just as they are concerned about Manoa being split up,” Moriwaki said. “As much as possible, you try to keep with the numbers, and try to keep communities as one.”

Residents of Manoa have pushed back against redistricting plans put forward by the commission because it divides the valley between two districts.

Senator Sharon Moriwaki listens to tesimony in a housing hearing at the Capitol.
Sen. Sharon Moriwaki worries that proposed reapportionment plans could split up communities. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Nonaka said some residents have responded positively over the years to living in a district that is split between two or more lawmakers. As an example, he pointed to Mililani, which is split between three House districts.

“There’s the argument that it’s a good thing because you get more representation,” Nonaka said.

He said neighborhoods on neighbor islands — like Kahului and Hilo — are often split up.

“You have to stay within the deviations,” Nonaka said. “There are more communities that are split up than there are together.”

Moriwaki understands that the commission has to get the deviation between districts as low as possible, but said it should also consider keeping communities together.

“That’s where the give and take should be rather than carrying it out only by the numbers,” she said. “Ultimately, you want people to feel comfortable together, because they are neighbors and have the same interests.”

A proposal from Ralph Ukishima tries to strike a compromise between the Hicks plan and the plans put forward by the commission for House seats.

Some neighborhood blocks were not properly allocated across geographic lines, Ukishima writes in an introduction to his plan. He moved blocks into different districts in Ewa, Wahiawa, Moanalaua and on the Windward side to better account for those natural boundaries.

He ran into trouble in an area above the Zippy’s at Kahala. Following a ditch that divides House Districts 18 and 20 creates a jagged edge to capture a census block of just 18 people.

“It doesn’t make a straight line, but nature doesn’t always produce straight lines,” Ukishima wrote.

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