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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2001

New legislative districts drawn to favor incumbents

By Kevin Dayton and Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

A state commission charged with drawing legislative districts based on population trends and geography carefully redrew the district boundaries to avoid disturbing incumbents and even used maps that noted the locations of legislators' houses.

Wayne Minami said the lines were dictated by shifts in the population.

Advertiser library photo • April 23, 2001

The new maps, which will define legislative districts for the next 10 years, benefit both Democrats and Republicans by keeping most incumbents separate so they don't have to run against each other in 2002.

Although the commission did not do anything illegal, the appearance that its members deferred to both Democratic and Republican incumbents has prompted objections from Common Cause Hawai'i and the League of Women Voters of Hawai'i. Even some legislators who benefit from the new maps concede the process was heavily influenced by politics.

Jean Aoki, legislative chairwoman for the league, recently reminded commissioners that the state Constitution prohibits them from drawing districts that "unduly favor" any person or party. Staff members of the reapportionment commission located each of the legislators' homes on maps in the commission's computers so members could quickly learn how each boundary change would affect each incumbent.

If the commissioners consider where each incumbent lives, "what this amounts to is the pre-selecting of a major candidate for each newly drawn district by the legislators and their appointed commissioners," Aoki said. Eight of the nine commissioners are appointed by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.

The issue of incumbents' influence over the new boundaries also surfaced in July when commission member Harold Masumoto showed drafts of the new maps to members of the House and Senate in a series of private briefings.

Larry Meacham of Common Cause said those brief-ings gave House and Senate incumbents a chance to try to influence the way the new boundaries were drawn.

Wayne Minami, chairman of the commission, said the new boundaries were dictated more by population shifts and geographic features than by what incumbents wanted or where they live.

"I think it's good to know where (incumbents) are, and if we can accommodate them, I think we would, but in many cases we can't," he said.

Lynn Kinney said the idea was to avoid disruption if possible.

Advertiser library photo • 2001

Lynn Kinney, another member of the commission, said commissioners wanted as much as possible to keep the districts the same, allowing incumbents to continue to represent the areas they were elected to serve. That didn't mean catering to incumbents, he said.

"I think the effort was to disrupt as little as possible, not to accommodate anybody or anything," said Kinney, a union official who is a Democrat. The guidelines the commission followed were strict, and allowed for little leeway, he said.

"Yeah, there's politics involved," he said. "I'd be naive to tell you no ... But it was more of a point where, OK, let's get this done and get it done so it doesn't look like we're favoring one over the other."

But the new boundaries suggest the commission had to do some careful drawing and create districts with some peculiar shapes to keep the incumbents apart.

One example is in Pearl City, where Reps. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City-Waipahu), Nobu Yonamine, D-35th (Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) and K. Mark Takai, D-34th (Waimalu-Newtown-Pearl City) all live within a mile of each other.

Despite extensive redrawing of the House districts in the area, the three are still neatly separated by new boundaries that meet between their homes.

Takumi conceded when he first saw his new district it was "kind of weird looking" around the edges of Pearl Harbor.

"My hunch is that what they wanted was to try to avoid reapportioning incumbents together," Takumi said. "They felt that since all of us were elected to office, why should reapportionment be the reason why we're not elected?

Roy Takumi said there's "no clean way to take care of everybody."

Advertiser library photo • 1998

"Whether or not you agree with it, I think that's a valid consideration ... If you look at it, there's really no clean way to take care of everybody."

A pattern similar to that in Pearl City was followed with the Republicans in East Honolulu, where population shifts required that each East Honolulu district expand west.

That expansion could easily have lumped Reps. Bertha Leong, R-16th ('Aina Haina-Hawai'i Kai) and Barbara Marumoto, R-17th (Kahala-Wai'alae Iki) into the same district, but it didn't.

Instead of allowing Leong's district to expand to include Wai'alae Iki, where Marumoto lives, Leong's expanded district edges around Wai'alae Iki and into Kahala. Under the new boundaries, Kahala is connected to the rest of Leong's district by a tiny sliver of land at Wailupe Beach.

Despite extensive redrawing of the House and Senate boundaries, the new maps place only three of the 76 sitting lawmakers in a district with another incumbent. Two of those lawmakers — Rep. Ed Case, D-23rd (Manoa) and Rep. Charles Djou, R-47th (Kahalu'u-Kane'ohe) — are widely expected to leave the House to run for higher office.

The third, Sen. Les Ihara, D-10th (Waikiki-Kaimuki), said the fact that he is considered by Senate leaders to be a dissident played into the fact that his district was eliminated. The proposed plan puts him in the same district as fellow Democrat Sen. Matt Matsunaga, D-9th (Wai'alae, Palolo).

Panel members eliminated Les Ihara's district.

Advertiser library photo • March 10, 1998

"Those who happen to be in power are the least affected, and those in the least powerful positions are the most affected," he said. "It appears that way. I think the golden rule (of the reapportionment commission) is to avoid disrupting the House and Senate organization."

Republican Party Executive Director Micah Kane suggested it was coincidence that the only two House districts with two incumbents included one representative who is looking at higher office.

"Well, you're looking at two districts that have population losses," he said. "I guess that's just the way it is."

To get a sense of the reapportionment game and the forces at work, consider the case of freshman Rep. Charles Djou.

Because of shifts in population, the reapportionment commission had to expand five Windward House districts and abolish a sixth. The commission decided to chop up Djou's district and divide his territory among the other Windward lawmakers.

Djou, a young, energetic campaigner who is considering a run for lieutenant governor next year, didn't grumble. But he said the new boundaries would be an enormous obstacle if he were to decide to remain in the House. In effect, the commission gave Djou a huge shove into the race for lieutenant governor.

The shape of some of the Windward districts is also curious. Djou's current district is next door to Democratic Rep. Ken Ito, 48th (Kane'ohe), who is the last surviving House Democrat on Oahu's Windward side. The commission could have simply redrawn the lines to put Djou's Lilipuna-area home into Ito's district, but it didn't.

Instead, the commission carved out a strip of land makai of Kamehameha Highway from Heeia Street to Waikalua Road and tacked it onto the edge of a third district held by Rep. David Pendleton, R-50th (Maunawili-Enchanted Lake).

Geographically, the commission's new boundaries combined Enchanted Lake and the area makai of Windward Mall into the same L-shaped House district. What that means politically is if Djou decides he wants to remain in the House, he will have to run against fellow Republican Pendleton, and not Democrat Ito.

"My own general opinion is that Kane'ohe and Kailua are two very distinct communities," Djou said. "I don't know if necessarily that is the best way to carve those lines."

The public, meanwhile, is mostly oblivious to the arcane machinations of reapportionment, a process mandated every 10 years to reflect population shifts recorded by the Census. At a meeting on the reapportionment issue in Kane'ohe on Thursday, exactly one person dropped by to view the proposed new boundaries of the 51 House districts and 25 Senate districts.

Each House district contains about 23,000 people while Senate districts contain about 45,000 people.

The process left "a bad taste in my mouth," said Ed Case.

Advertiser library photo • Sept. 23, 2000

Another example of politics and reapportionment crops up in urban Honolulu, where the commission opted to chop up a district held by Rep. Terry Nui Yoshinaga, D-22nd (Mo'ili'ili-McCully-Pawa'a).

An early draft of the plan put Yoshinaga's Bingham Tract home in a newly drawn district with Rep. Scott Saiki, D-20th (Kapahulu-Mo'ili'ili). But after word circulated that Case planned to seek a higher office, new maps were drawn incorporating Yoshinaga's neighborhood with Case's Manoa district.

Case sees a cause-and-effect there. "I think the commission had heard me discuss the potential of running for higher office and of not running in Manoa, which is a decision that I have not made," he said. To avoid conflict between Saiki and Yoshinaga, Yoshinaga was attached to Manoa, he said.

"That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I just don't think that's the right reason," Case said.

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Reach Kevin Dayton or Lynda Arakawa at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com, larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.