Former Hawaii governor, neighborhood boards rally against Reapportionment Commission map

Dec. 24—Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie joined a small gathering of neighborhood board members and concerned residents outside the state Capitol on Thursday to register their opposition to the Hawaii State Reapportionment Commission's redrawn map of Oahu voter districts.

Redistricting for elected state and congressional seats happens every 10 years based on the latest U.S. Census data.

The two main issues for the nearly 20 people at the rally concerned splitting Mililani into four separate House districts and the creation of a new House District 51, which would combine portions of Hawaii Kai with Waimanalo and Kailua.

Abercrombie started the rally with a swift critique of the Reapportionment Commission's lack of transparency, as it has been able to avoid public meetings by forming a "technical permitted interaction group " that is allowed to meet in private.

"The technical group of four commissioners behind closed doors with complete lack of transparency has violated every single element required by the Constitution and by law to put together this so-called plan, " he said.

"What we're asking for is that this plan be rejected, that the members of this commission understand that they have a constitutional duty to the people of this state to act independently and objectively and not carry out the will of their political masters."

Mililani /Waipio /Melemanu Neighborhood Board member Trish La Chica said she was concerned about the number of lawmakers who would be representing the different parts of Mililani.

"We're going to be one of many families where I'm going to be represented by somebody while my son is going to a Mililani school represented by somebody else and my daughter will be going to a preschool again represented by somebody else, " she said.

"I don't see how that's going to be an effective way to unify and be a strong voice for our community."

La Chica acknowledged it's not possible to keep all of Mililani intact for the redistricting, but pointed out that under the proposed map, a portion of Mililani town would be grouped with parts of Mokuleia through Kaena Point, and another portion of Mili ­lani town would be grouped with Wahiawa.

"It will just result in fragmenting our community and continuing to weaken our voice in the Legislature, " she said.

Members of the Kailua, Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo neighborhood boards voiced opposition to the commission's version of House District 51 that would combine their three areas.

Waimanalo Neighborhood Board Chairman Kimeona Kane was concerned the district would marginalize Native Hawaiians in his community.

"As a large Native Hawaiian population in Waima ­nalo, there are huge concerns, concerns that no one has been able to answer yet, " he said. "Concerns that no one has been able to bring to the forefront of our conversations and say, 'Waimanalo, your Native Hawaiian population and those within, you are OK, you will be protected.'"

At Wednesday's Reapportionment Commission meeting, Commissioner Diane Ono pointed out that in the map as currently proposed, Waimanalo residents would comprise about 40 % of the district while 35 % would be Kailua residents and 25 % Hawaii Kai residents.

But Kane wasn't moved, saying Hawaii Kai and Kailua neighborhood board members also did not approve of the current version of the redistricting map.

"Recognizing that we are much more diverse than just a Native Hawaiian community now, we have to align ourselves with the needs of everyone within our communities, " he said.

Also during Wednesday's meeting, Commissioner Charlotte Nekota explained that the new District 51 would match the current Senate district that has been in place for the last 20 years.

Roberta Mayor, chairwoman of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, pushed back against that reasoning.

"Instead of trying to change the House districts to conform with the mistake that was done for the Senate, they need to reestablish Makapuu Point (as the boundary ) for the Senate districts, " she said. "'It's been done in the Senate for a long time.' Well, that doesn't make it right to compound that problem. So it's time to fix it."

All of the speakers at the rally pointed to a map developed by Kailua Neighborhood Board Chairman Bill Hicks, which separates Hawaii Kai from Waimanalo and has a better population deviation at about 2.5 % compared with the commission's map at 8 %.

When making amendments to the maps, commissioners must comply with a one-person, one-vote rule that requires each district to have roughly the same number of people. Given that exact compliance can be problematic, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a deviation under 10 % is acceptable.

Asked to respond to the concerns raised at Thursday's rally, Commissioner Dylan Nonaka, who also served on the commission in 2011, explained it's impossible to please all the communities on Oahu and that altering District 51 would only trigger changes in districts on the other side of the island.

"No matter what you do, when you make a change, there's a cascading effect that changes the numbers to surrounding districts, " he said.

"We fixed the map and satisfied 90 % of the people, but the one district that we don't fix, that we can't fix to satisfy everyone else, is affected, too, and I get that. We went into this knowing that you're not going to satisfy everybody."

Hicks maintains that even though he adjusted districts in East Honolulu, it didn't affect any of the other districts and that people who think it cannot be done are mistaken.

The Reapportionment Commission will need to decide on a map by Feb. 27 and will have two more meetings, on Jan. 3 and 6.