Hawaii's Redistricting Process Is Hurting Democracy - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Gordon Aoyagi

Gordon Aoyagi is a resident of Honolulu living in Manoa. He is retired after 40 years of public policy and senior executive experience in local government in Colorado, Connecticut, Oregon and Maryland. His management experience includes urban planning, public transit, public administration and policy, fire/EMS administration and homeland security.

The Hawaii Reapportionment Commission adopted its final legislative redistricting plan on Jan. 28. Why is there controversy? Those who oppose the HRC redistricting plan are mischaracterized by several commissioners as complaining, disgruntled naysayers who didn’t get their way.

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In this writer’s view, fundamentally, the issues are about strengthening the performance of Hawaii’s democracy. History and recent events inform us that democracy requires vigilance: The rule of law —  equality and justice for all under it, and no one is above it.

The HRC adopted its final redistricting plan asserting compliance with the law “as practicable.” However, the HRC did not follow common business and legal practices by providing compelling justification or careful analyses to support its “practicable” assertions.

In HRC meetings, the public offered redistricting plans more consistent with state reapportionment constitutional law and statutes and with more equitable population distribution. The public’s efforts to show deficiencies in HRC’s proposed redistricting plans, compared to the public’s proposed plans were largely ignored. Final resolution of this developing dispute will most certainly require adjudication by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Reapportionment is not only a complex problem of balancing numbers and drawing lines, but is also a political process with ramifications on how political relationships can be encouraged to thrive locally. Public testimony before the HRC was replete with incidences of splitting apart communities, ignoring natural boundaries and submerging Hawaiian communities.

Vibrant and productive community political life that seeks to improve, protect and advance communities involves self-determined community identity, sense of place, and common purpose. External mandates, such as the HRC’s redistricting plans, impose what seem to be arbitrary boundaries without regard to a community’s recommendations, resulting in these areas having only consumers and producers of goods and services with little or no interest in community political life.

The HRC demonstrated responsiveness by revising House districts for Manoa and Kailua/Hawaii Kai, thereby recognizing the principles of compact communities and the use of natural and geographic features for boundaries.

But these principles were not consistently applied in the HRC final redistricting plan. HRC did not respond to extensive testimony urging that Pearl City, Papakolea, Mililani and Waikaloa also be treated as compact communities to be placed into a single House district. Further, Makapu’u point was used as a natural boundary for House districts but not for Senate districts in the same area.

To no avail, public testimony urged adoption of the commission’s final plan for House districts on Oahu, with adjustments for the four above mentioned communities, to set the basis for subsequently determining Senate and congressional districts.

Most of the testimony before the HRC was based on state constitutional and statutory provisions.

Hawaii Island final reapportionment map 2022
Hawaii Island’s final reapportionment map gives it a new state House district. Screenshot/2022

We witnessed a widespread grassroots movement to improve and strengthen Hawaii’s democracy. If provisions of our laws are not applied in democracy’s fundamental element of insuring representative districts, then more egregious violations of our democratic principles and laws are invited. “Follow our laws” in Hawaii’s redistricting plan was the common refrain heard throughout the state.

Hawaii’s constitution and statutes anticipate change. The laws stipulate no district shall be drawn to give undue favor to a person or party; representative districts shall be wholly contained within Senate districts and state legislative districts shall be wholly contained within congressional districts.

This is attainable in 2022 because Oahu has 34 House districts with 17 Senate districts; Big Island has eight House districts with four Senate districts; Maui has six House and three Senate; Kauai has three House districts and one Senate district. Simple math dictates that each Senate district on three of our major islands can wholly contain two House districts.

However, under the adopted final redistricting plan for Oahu, all 17 Senate districts have three or more partial House districts within them. For congressional districts: six House districts and five Senate districts cross CD1/CD2 boundaries.

It need not be so confusing. Our state laws clearly prescribe otherwise.

Determining the responsible agency with the array of overlapping state and local functions is challenging enough for the local resident. When problems with government services are encountered, recourse is to appeal to our legislators.

The legislator often asks if there is community support. Obtaining community support and consensus is challenging with disparate, physically separated communities that do not share many of the same interests or identities.

Frustration and confusion spawn apathy and ambivalence that can be the province of indifference and inertia in which an unaccountable legislator may freely roam. By properly applying our state laws, the 2022 reapportionment will bring simpler and structurally aligned legislative districts.

With such changes, potential improvements in accountability, transparency, and focus on community needs will more likely occur. Otherwise, how does our democracy in Hawaii renew itself?

The time for meaningful change to strengthen Hawaii’s democracy through lawful reapportionment is now!

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About the Author

Gordon Aoyagi

Gordon Aoyagi is a resident of Honolulu living in Manoa. He is retired after 40 years of public policy and senior executive experience in local government in Colorado, Connecticut, Oregon and Maryland. His management experience includes urban planning, public transit, public administration and policy, fire/EMS administration and homeland security.


Latest Comments (0)

While I love the idea that Gene Ward may be voted out of office, I hate that it might happen due to the obvious line-drawing which gave his republican constituents (Portlock) to the Waimanalo district. I have to laugh however that Mr. Ward is so blatantly in favor of Republican gerrymandering around the country, that he might now be a victim of Democratic Party gerrymandering. It's just wrong when done by either party. But, bye bye, Gene, anyway.

mtf1953 · 9 months ago

Civil Beat misspelled the author’s name as "Ayonagi" . The correct spelling is Gordon Aoyagi for proper attribution. Additionally, updated information based on a recent and more detailed analysis of the January 28 HRC adopted redistricting plan shows there are four House Districts, not six as previously reported, crossing Congressional District 1 and 2 boundaries. The five Senate Districts crossing Congressional Districts remain the same. Nevertheless, the HRC Final Redistricting Plan is not compliant with our State laws requiring legislative districts fall wholly within Congressional Districts.

Gordon · 9 months ago

Whenever lawmakers start saying stuff like "threat to our democracy," what they really mean is, "Threat to my political survival."I've said it before & I'll say it again: the solution that will make fair & impartial reapportionment easier to push through is to have multi-member districts. That way, incumbents won't feel as threatened, when they are not pitted directly 1-on-1 against each other. The US Supreme Court has already ruled & clarified that multi-member districts are legal for state legislatures.Since the Democrats hold super-majorities in both the House & Senate, you would think that everyone in that party would be all in favor of this. Win-win for all. But curiously enough, I keep running into a couple of naysayers, even though I know they are politically active Dem supporters. It makes me think that these folks aren't really concerned with the careers of their favorite candidate(s), as much as they want to preserve a system that could potentially be used to target individuals whom they want taken out of power.Dog eat dog, indeed.

KalihiValleyHermit · 9 months ago

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