By NANCY COOK LAUER
Now that the Hawaii Supreme Court has sent the state Reapportionment Commission back to the drawing board, former state Sen. Lorraine Inouye is positioning herself to run for what is likely to become the island's fourth Senate seat.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the commission's plan to divide the state into legislative districts, saying the state constitution requires that nonpermanent military and students be removed from the population counts before House and Senate seats are divvied up among the islands. In a 29-page opinion issued Friday afternoon, the court reiterated that order and told the commission to "prepare and file a new plan."
"In preparing a new plan, the commission must first — pursuant to article IV, section 4 — determine the total number of permanent residents in the state and in each county and use those numbers to allocate the 25 members of the senate and 51 members of the house of representatives among the four counties. Upon such allocation, the commission must then ... apportion the senate and house members among nearly equal numbers of permanent residents within each of the four counties," said the opinion signed by all five justices.
The decision means the Big Island, which outpaced the state's growth with a 24.5 percent population surge in the last decade, is very likely due that fourth Senate seat and perhaps an eighth House seat as well.
The ruling followed lawsuits from Sen. Malama Solomon, the Democrat currently representing the 1st District, members of the Hawaii County Democratic Party and Kailua-Kona attorney Michael Matsukawa, who said he filed on behalf of Big Island residents.
Anticipating the legal challenge, Inouye had submitted a map to the Reapportionment Commission dividing the island into quarters, with the 1st District encompassing most of Hilo south into Panaewa, with its northernmost boundary about at Ninole on the North Hilo coast. That breaks the 1st District away from its current senator, Solomon, a Democrat who represented that district from 1983 to 1998 and was appointed back to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2010.
Inouye, 71, has spent most of her adult life in government: as a Democratic senator representing the 1st District from 1998 to 2008, as Hawaii County mayor from 1990 to 1992, as a County Council member from 1984 to 1990 and as a member of the Planning Commission from 1974 to 1979. She left the Senate in 2008 in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the mayor's office.
Inouye bristles at the idea she's created a map that makes it easier for her to get back in office, by allowing her to seek an open seat rather than run against Solomon.
"That's totally ridiculous," Inouye said Friday. "People think Hilo should be all in one district."
In creating her map, Inouye has split West Hawaii in half, with the 4th District running from the the 1st District's northern boundary to the vicinity of Kailua Bay, and the 3rd District picking up there and spanning the southern half of the island up to Puna, which becomes teh 2nd District, currently represented by Sen. Gilbert Kahele, also a Democrat.
Sen. Josh Green, the 3rd District Democrat currently representing West Hawaii, doesn't want to see the district split. Green, who's served three years in the Senate following four terms in House, said he's talked with more than 50,000 constituents. There's a consensus that West Hawaii is a distinct, unique community that doesn't share the same characteristics as the more rural areas along the Hamakua coast, he said.
"I'm glad we're getting an additional seat," Green said. "My hope is that all West Hawaii will remain intact. I think that's the fairest thing to do to the constituents of this region."
Green, through attorney J.P. Schmidt, had filed a friend of the court brief asking the justices to require another round of public hearings once the new maps are completed. Green said the court during its hearing Wednesday seemed amenable to the brief. But there is no specific public hearing requirement in the opinion released Friday.
Time is running short with Feb. 1 the opening day to pull nomination papers. But Schmidt said that date could be postponed, because papers don't have to be filed until June 5.
"Just because it's hard, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it," said Schmidt, noting the plaintiffs used that same argument when the Reapportionment Commission balked at removing nonpermanent resident military and students in the first place. "They would have to hustle to do it."
Reapportionment Commission Chairwoman Victoria Marks said once the maps are redrawn, the commission won't likely go through another round of public hearings unless the court requires it.
Marks, a former judge, said her initial take on the opinion has left her with additional questions that may have to go back to the court for answers. For example, she needs to know how important the population deviations are once the commission divides the senators and representatives among the four island units.
If the deviations must be strictly followed, that will likely result in canoe districts, where a district may span more than one island, she said.
"We want to do what they're telling us to do," Marks said. "We want to get it right; we don't want to have to go back and do it again."