After some intense lobbying by critics, the state Reapportionment Commission now wants to overhaul the proposed House district maps that might have set up primary election contests between as many as 10 incumbent Democrats.

The commission voted in October to hold public hearings on controversial draft House maps that combined 10 House members into districts with other incumbents from Kapolei to urban Honolulu, but the commission posted new maps online last week that separated all but two of the sitting lawmakers.

The latest round of changes in the maps appears to be driven in part by the surprise announcement in late October by House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke that she plans to run for lieutenant governor.

Rep Sylvia Luke chatting with Rep Cullen, her seat neighbor during floor session.
After Democratic Rep. Sylvia Luke announced she will be leaving the House to run for lieutenant governor, the Reapportionment Commission developed new maps that would divide up her district and attach parts of it to the districts held by two other lawmakers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Her announcement meant there will be no incumbent seeking re-election to the House from her district representing Makiki, Punchbowl, Nuuanu and Pauoa. That was apparently helpful to the commission, which needs to dissolve a House district in urban Honolulu.

The nine-member state commission has the task of redrawing state House and Senate districts and the U.S. House district boundaries using data from the 2020 U.S. Census. The new boundaries are supposed to ensure each district has approximately the same population so that every resident gets equal representation.

Part of the challenge for the commission this year has been that the population in the Ewa area grew in the decade since the last census, while the populations in East Honolulu neighborhoods have stagnated.

That means districts in the urban core need to expand to capture more people, and a new district needs to be created in the Ewa area to reflect the growing population there.

The commission proposed in the earlier maps that District 19 made up of Waialae, Kahala, Diamond Head, Kaimuki and Kapahulu be dissolved and replaced with a new district in Ewa. The preliminary maps grafted the pieces of the old District 19 onto the surrounding urban Honolulu districts.

Rep. Bert Kobayashi said the initial reapportionment proposal gerrymandered his district. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2018

Rep. Bert Kobayashi, who now represents District 19, called that proposal “perhaps the most gerrymandered district in the state.” That plan would have landed Kobayashi in a district with fellow Democrat Rep. Mark Hashem.

The maps would also have been politically hazardous to a number of other incumbents.

The earlier draft maps would have combined Democratic Rep. Daniel Holt together with Rep. Takashi Ohno in the same district in urban Honolulu; and combined Democratic Rep. Adrian Tam together with House Speaker Scott Saiki in the same district in Kakaako.

The new lines would also have combined Democratic Rep. Gregg Takayama together with Rep. Roy Takumi in a district in the Pearl City area; and combined Democratic Rep. Sharon Har together with Rep. Matt LoPresti in a new district made up of portions of Ewa and Kapolei.

Not surprisingly, those maps were unpopular. They prompted complaints to the commission, and also to Saiki, who as speaker appointed two members of the commission.

Much of that controversy was resolved after Luke’s announcement that she would not be running for re-election, which apparently gave the commission greater flexibility to consider revisions. The commission then developed new maps that made some major changes.

The latest draft maps would essentially split Luke’s district between two adjoining districts now held by Ohno and House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti.

Other maps in the urban area were also redrawn to mostly restore Kobayashi’s current district, and to separate him and Hashem into different districts. Meanwhile, Tam said he moved into Waikiki — which makes up much of his current district — so he will be separated from Saiki in Kakaako.

The House district lines in Pearl City have been redrawn in the new maps to separate Takumi from Takayama, and the latest maps would also separate Har in Kapolei from LoPresti in Ewa.

The Reapportionment Commission is scheduled to discuss the new maps at a meeting on Wednesday. The deadline to finalize the maps is Feb. 27.

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