O‘ahu, Big Isle wrestle for Senate seat

One of the biggest hot potatoes facing the state Reapportionment Commission is whether to count some 70,000 nonresident military personnel and dependents who can’t vote in setting legislative district lines.

Hawai‘i is currently one of only two states that don’t count them, along with Kansas, and the commission is taking another look at the issue.

The ramifications are significant: If nonresident military continue not to be counted, O‘ahu will likely lose a state Senate seat to the fast-growing Big Island, which would go from three senators to four.

But if the commission changes policy and counts military who can’t vote, the seat would likely be saved for O‘ahu, where most of them are based.

Counting the nonresident military could also give the state’s moribund Republican Party a slight boost by creating more districts around military bases, where voters tend to be a little more to the right.

Veterans groups are pressuring the panel to show the troops the respect of counting them even though they can’t vote here, as the federal government requires in setting congressional districts.

Some on O‘ahu are rallying around the idea as a way keeping the Senate seat on the island, but Big Islanders naturally take umbrage at a rules change that would deny them the additional Senate seat they feel they’re entitled to by an honest count of eligible resident voters.

Counting those who can’t vote, they say, leaves us with a skewed Legislature that doesn’t truly represent the electorate.

As one of my old friends in Hilo colorfully put it, “I do not know if I am
to grab my ankles now or a little later.”

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12 Comments on “O‘ahu, Big Isle wrestle for Senate seat”

  1. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    As someone who has regularly attended the Reapportionment Commission meetings except for the first one back in early April, I addressed this issue at its last meeting and intend to do so again this week. I strongly support counting the military, and I assure you that I am way off in the left-hand corner of the Democratic Party tent. In fact, I sit on both the Oahu County Committee and the State Central Committee.

    Here are my arguments:

    1) The federal government counts the military and their dependents in determining the boundary lines for the U.S. House Districts. It it works for them, it will work for us. Forty-eight states also count the military.

    2) The military and their dependents use our infrastructure – roadways and parks and sewers and public libraries to name a few – and they pay a variety of taxes and fees to live here – including the GET on anything purchased outside their military base. They send their children mostly to public schools.. Many of them also live off base and pay property taxes either directly or indirectly. Definitely taxation without representation

    Their kids are counted in some instances, but not alway even though they’re physically present in the schools.

    NOTE: The counties will use the same criteria for determining the boundary lines for the Council districts so the same arguments can be used regardless of which governmental level provides the services.

    3) Military members and their dependents provide counless hours of community service and take part in a wide range of community programs such as youth sports – especially in places like Kalihi, Kailua/Kane`ohe, Wahiawa, Salt Lake/Moanalua/Aiea/Pearl City.

    4) By not counting them, they become ghost residents which leads to expanding out district boundaries which, in turn, puts a greater burden on legislators to provide services.

    There is another group which is not being counted now – the homeless. They may have been staying at IHS on the day the Census person came by, but they now might be staying in Kaka`ako or out on the Leeward Coast. Who is their state representative or senator? Given they they move from place to place without much notice, I would like to have policy-makers come up with realistic options in addressing their needs and our concerns.

    For more information about the process, click http://hawaii.gov/elections/reapportionment/

  2. Mike Middlesworth Says:

    We’re struggling with this issue in redrawing the council district boundaries here on the Big Island (I’m on the redistricting commission) and it’s difficult, given the feelings on both sides of the issue.

    It’s my understanding that, in our case, we don’t have to use the same criteria as the state, so that will make for interesting discussions.

    We’re all going to be using the same computer software, and it doesn’t make allowances for military and dependents, which is problematic. There are also problems with non-resident college students. Seems the schools can’t easily tell us where they live….

    We have another meeting next week where we’re going to get training in using the software. Maybe things will become clearer then.

  3. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Our representatives represent the residents. The non-resident military are non-residents.

    Non-resident. Yup, that covers it. The rest is all political maneuvering.

  4. OahuSophist Says:

    I think it’s important to point out that military personnel and their families are not considered residents under other parts of the law. For example, they do not pay income taxes here. Sure, they pay the GET, but so do tourists; that military personnel pay this tax, on its own, doesn’t make a good case for including them. Also, they claim themselves as residents in Hawaii for the purposes of voting. It is this last point that, to me, makes the strongest case for continuing to exclude them.

    That the Fed includes them for the purposes of redrawing Congressional lines doesn’t mean that we should too; we need to look critically at why they have been excluded in the past….

    Why, if they don’t vote here, should they be included in the redistricting figures for our local government? Sure, they use our schools and our roads, and serve as volunteers in our communities, but to me the bottom line is they don’t register to vote here, so the argument of “taxation without representation” doesn’t really hold water, in my opinion, especially since they can vote in the states where they pay their income taxes.

    Finally, I think it’s important to point out that three of the four County Advisory Committees to the Reapportionment Commission have voted unanimously against including military personnel. Practically, including military personnel in redistricting figures won’t effect them in any substantive way.

  5. Guido Sarducci Says:

    “One of the biggest hot potatoes facing the state Reapportionment Commission is whether to count some 70,000 nonresident military personnel and dependents who can’t vote….”

    They can vote.

    All they have to do is register–and many do. There is no way to accurately distinguish which are planning to stay in Hawaii after their tour–many do. And I don’t hear any calls for OTHER non-voting populations such as non-citizen immigrants, minors, felons, etc to be cut out of the apportionment process.

    Hawaii is one of only two US states which discriminate against military personnel in this way.

  6. Cute Lunatic Says:

    I have just emailed the redistricting council on the Big Island in favor of NOT counting the military. They are transient, there are no guarantees that the military population will be consistent at any given time. The redistricting will really skew representation. Oahu has a large population with an adequate amount of representation. The Big Island could use another one. Just my opinion.

  7. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    There are well over 10,000 active duty military and dependents who work off the bases and pay Hawai`i state income taxes.

    Unfortunately, dependents under the age of 18 cannot vote so they indeed rely upon their parents/guardians to represent their interests in dealing with state and county officials.

    Furthermore, these all of these folks generate a lot of income for local businesses.

    As for the other three counties – remember that O`ahu has twice your collective populations combined. That gives us the power – if you don’t like it, then change the State Constitution

  8. zzzzzing Says:

    Is there a reason we can’t count BOTH populations and add two more Senate seats?

  9. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    See my previous comment about changing the State Constitution.




    Section 1. The legislative power of the State shall be vested in a legislature, which shall consist of two houses, a senate and a house of representatives. Such power shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation not inconsistent with this constitution or the Constitution of the United States.


    Section 2. The senate shall be composed of twenty-five members, who shall be elected by the qualified voters of the respective senatorial districts. Until the next reapportionment the senatorial districts and the number of senators to be elected from each shall be as set forth in the Schedule. [Am Const Con 1968 and election Nov 5, 1968; am Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]


    Section 3. The house of representatives shall be composed of fifty-one members, who shall be elected by the qualified voters of the respective representative districts. Until the next reapportionment, the representative districts and the number of representatives to be elected from each shall be as set forth in the Schedule. [Am Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]


    This is an issue to address during the next ten years since the anticipated number of people living just on O`ahu is expected to hit 1.4 million in less a dozen years – a 50% increase from 2000.

  10. Kolea Says:

    I think Dave has framed this fairly accurately. This is a power grab by Oahu political forces who don’t want to lose a senate seat to the Big Island so they are considering changing the way the population is counted in order to hold onto a seat they would otherwise lose.

    This push is strengthened by the belief by the Republican Party leadership that such a policy change might give them enough of an edge to pick up a couple of more House seats on Oahu. The Republicans have NOT been able to convince their neighbor island members to support this Oahu power grab.

    As far as I can tell, the Democrats have no unified position on this and are being pulled in different directions.

    Both parties should set aside their partisan viewpoints and all commissioners should set aside the narrow interests of their county. The change is bad policy. Whether military families are counted or not will not increase their political influence one iota, so long as they do not vote in Hawaii. (Very few –approaching zero– claim Hawaii as their residence for voting). The real world effect of the policy change would be to increase the political strength of civilians who live near a military base, not the military families themselves. The Republicans are cynically disguising their power grab behind talk of “supporting the troops,” when this is of no benefit to the troops. Only to the politicians playing their games.

  11. el guapo Says:

    If we’re going to count the way the Federal Government does, then let’s do what Congress does – change the Senate to 2 per island, 12 total, then we can get rid of the rest of them and their support staffs. If the Senate districts continue to be based on population, we may as well have a uni-cameral legislature.

  12. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Actually, what people are not dealing with is the shift of the population from Windward & East Honolulu through Kalihi out to West O`ahu. Windward O`ahu lost one House seat a decade ago which is how Charles Djou eventually wound up in Congress for a few months.

    A similar shift will occur this decade both in the Legislature as well as on the City Council.

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