Sunday, October 4, 2015         

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Panel recommends including military families when redrawing district lines

By Derrick DePledge


An Oahu advisory council to the state Reapportionment Commission recommended Wednesday that the commission count nonresident military and their dependents as permanent residents when redrawing the state's political districts, a position that puts Oahu at odds with neighbor island advisory councils.

The Oahu advisory council told the commission that nonresident military and their dependents were counted as living in Hawaii in the 2010 census and deserve representation at the state Legislature. Nonresident military and their dependents, nonresident students and sentenced felons are included in the population count used by the commission for purposes of drawing congressional boundaries.

Big Island, Maui and Kauai advisory councils have asked the commission not to count nonresident military and their dependents for state legislative districts, contending that many in the military do not pay state income taxes or vote in Hawaii because they consider themselves residents of other states.

The decision could have political consequences. If the Reapportionment Commission chooses to exclude nonresident military and their dependents – as many as 70,000 people -- it could shift a state Senate seat from Oahu to the Big Island.

Creating state legislative districts with greater concentrations of nonresident military and their dependents may also help Republican candidates, since those with military ties tend to be more conservative politically.

But members of the Oahu advisory council said they were not motivated by politics. Republicans and Democrats on the council supported counting nonresident military and their dependents.

"I believe we have risen above petty politics in this," said Mike Palcic, who serves on the Oahu advisory council and is a Republican activist.

Madge Schaefer, who serves on the Maui advisory council and is a Republican, said voters were instructed before a 1992 state constitutional amendment that nonresident military were excluded from the definition of permanent residents for state reapportionment.

Voters approved the constitutional amendment changing the state count to permanent residents from registered voters. Republicans had filed a successful federal legal challenge in the 1980s against using registered voters as the population base to draw single and multimember legislative districts.

"It seems to be written in plain English to me," Schaefer said of the voter instructions.

But the Reapportionment Commission has heard from several people over the past few weeks that nonresident military and their dependents should be counted as a matter of fairness.

Thomas Smyth, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who works with the Military Officers Association of America's Hawaii chapter, said he would not want to see a bumper sticker that said: "Crooks count, but heroes don't count."

The Reapportionment Commission deferred a decision on the issue until it formally receives a report from the Big Island advisory council, which recommended last week to exclude nonresident military and their dependents from the state count.

Victoria Marks, the commission's chairwoman, said Wednesday that the commission has declined to release legal advice from the state Attorney General's office on the population base at this time. She said the commission has additional questions for the attorney general on the issue.

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