By NANCY COOK LAUER
Big Islanders — whose colleagues sued to force a fourth Senate seat and a second round of public hearings on new legislative maps — formed a small but vocal crowd Tuesday evening when the state Reapportionment Commission came to town.
About three dozen people showed up to hear the explanation of the changes, but only 10 people — three in Hilo, two in Kona, one in Waimea and four in Pahoa — testified to the commission.
"I'm saddened to not see more people here," said Luana Palapala Busby Neff of Papaikou. "People and families are shaped by the lands they live on. ... Please consider where we live."
The commission has scheduled another public hearing for Oahu today, and then will meet Feb. 27 and 29 to finalize the maps. The maps then go to the state Elections Office.
It's not known when candidates will be able to pull nomination papers for the new legislative seats, but it should be some time in March. Candidates will have until June 5 to file for office; the county and federal nomination process began Feb. 1.
District lines are redrawn every 10 years to account for population changes revealed by the decennial census.
Most testifiers were concerned with how the House districts are drawn in Puna.
"You people do not have a clue about the geography or the social dynamic of the Big Island," said Rene Siracusa, who was chairwoman of the county Redistricting Commission.
But Hilo resident Jeff Melrose, also a member of the county Redistricting Commission, noted that Puna comes out a winner with the maps, basically having two House members and its own senator.
The other major issue dealt with how the new Senate seat is placed on the island.
Neff and Arthur Robert, both testifying in Hilo, supported moving the line between the Hamakua and Hilo Senate districts farther northwest, so that Papaikou, Paukaa and related communities are in the Hilo District 1, rather than Hamakua. That change would allow Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Waimea, Hamakua, North Hilo, Rural South Hilo, Hilo, to avoid a challenge by former Sen. Lorraine Inouye, a Democrat who once represented that district. Inouye, who lives in Paukaa, had hoped to be in District 1, which is currently represented by Sen. Gilbert Kahele, D-Ka'u, Puna, Hilo, an appointee of Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
The line is within minutes of her home, she told West Hawaii Today. She watched the proceedings but didn't testify Tuesday.
The commission redrew the maps for the state House and Senate upon order of the Hawaii Supreme Court, which found that the commission's first work was unconstitutional because it didn't remove nonpermanent military and students.
The revised method removed 108,767 nonpermanent residents from the state's population to arrive at a total population of 1.25 million.
Most significant among the changes are the additional Senate seat for the Big Island and one fewer senator for Oahu. The House map is virtually unchanged on the Big Island from the last round of public hearings, said David Royce, the ESRI software consultant working with the commission.
The lawsuit was filed by Solomon, Hawaii County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Pavao and party committee members Louis Hao and Patti Cook. In addition, Kona attorney Michael Matsukawa filed his own lawsuit on behalf of the public that will be heard at the same time.
Once the nonpermanent residents were eliminated, the Big Island — whose population spiked 24.5 percent over the past 10 years — was due another senator.
"I think the Senate map is as good as it's going to get," said South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who has closely followed the process.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org