Residents: Boundaries Wrong in Hilo and Puna
by Dave Smith
The state Reapportionment Commission found out Tuesday that you can’t please everyone.
The commission was in Hilo to obtain public input on its new maps setting the boundaries for the state Legislature’s districts. Compared to the first maps issued last year, the latest set – created at the order of the Hawaii Supreme Court – give the Big Island an additional Senate seat.
But most of the nine people testifying Tuesday were unhappy with the way the new lines were drawn.
Luana Palapala Busby Neff, who prefaced her testimony with a Hawaiian chant, told the two commissioners at the meeting that her Papaikou home should be included in the Senate district containing Hilo.
Previously, her Senate district, which was then named District 1, did include the Big Island’s largest city. But in the maps released Feb. 14, the boundary for the district containing the North Hilo area where she lives was moved about seven miles to the northwest, from one side of Hilo to the other.
That left Neff living in a different district than her business, many of her relatives and, she said, her roots.
The change is partly the result of creating a new, fourth Senate district made up mostly of Puna. That made Hilo a district by itself, with Neff’s home located a mile to the northwest of the new boundaries for that new District 1.
After delivering her chant, Neff gave commissioners a quick lesson on ancient Hawaiian geography, describing how the island was originally broken up into six moku which formed the basis for the current districts that include Hilo, Hamakua and Puna.
“Traditionally this is grounds for war when you’re moving boundaries, and that’s what we’re doing here, moving boundaries,” she said.
Neff said she has much more in common with Hilo than with the Hamakua area.
“It is essential to have representation that is organically tied to the land and the community,” she said.
Art Roberts had a similar complaint, only his deals with the new House boundaries. Roberts lives in Hakalau, eight miles further up the Hamakua coast, and the new maps take him out of House District 2 which included Hilo and into the new House District 1, which extends along the coast nearly to North Kohala.
“People in Hakalau have more in common with Hilo,” he said.
Commissioner Dylan Nonaka, one of two members of the panel present, said it was not feasible to move the boundary east as Roberts wanted.
“You’d have to put a line through Hilo,” Nonaka said.
Several people testifying by teleconference from the County Council office in Pahoa disagreed with the commission’s decision to separate Puna’s large subdivisions into House districts 3 and 4.
Rene Siracusa of Pahoa, who chaired the county Redistricting Commission that set the Big Island’s council districts, said that she felt the state commission was in too much of a hurry to finish its work and that the Puna area should have been kept intact.
“I think that given time you would have never made the boundaries the way it is,” she said.
However, Jeff Melrose, one of three members representing Hilo on the Hawaii County commission, applauded the state commission’s work, noting that the new maps give Puna its own Senate seat and two seats in the House.
“That’s a good thing for Puna,” he said. “You did a good job with that.”
Nonaka agreed, describing the two House districts as being “punacentric.”
The Reapportionment Commission will hold another meeting Wednesday in Honolulu, where its members may get another earful, as Oahu is where four of the five pairs of incumbents who could find themselves as opponents are located.
Two current House members from the Big Island, Jerry Chang of District 1 and Mark Nakashima of District 2, are the only lawmakers on the Neighbor Islands finding themselves in a common district as a result of the changes.
The new maps were drawn after the state’s highest court agreed with four Big Island residents who filed lawsuits in response to the commission’s first set of maps. The lawsuits argued that according to Hawaii’s constitution, the commission should not have included military personnel and non-resident students in its initial calculations, and that excluding them would give the Big Island a fourth Senate seat.
The commission then removed approximately 107,000 residents from the state’s population to configure the new maps. The number of people “extracted” from the Big Island’s population was 1,483, the commission’s staff said.
The commission is set to take a final vote on the new political maps on Feb. 29.