As the Charter Commission hits the road for a series of public meetings on creating County Council districts, folks will find the pickings slim and largely unpalatable.
And I'm not talking about the pupu. I mean the one and only proposal they're offering: seven districts.
Not five by-district and two at-large, as was proposed by the Commission's special committee, or the three-four plan that was just 161 votes shy of passing in 2006, or four and three or hey — how about put everything on the menu and see what people like? Then take that out to the voters in the form of a charter amendment.
But no, only one choice is on the table: Carving Kauai into seven small wedges where you get to vote for only one Councilmember. Under that scenario, a candidate could get elected with just 2,000 votes. By comparison, Tim Bynum needed more than 12,000 votes to tag the last place Council seat.
Which brings us to a major impetus for districting: it can make it easier for political newcomers — the unconnected, so to speak — to break in. While districting appeals to voters seeking more accessibility from their elected officials, candidates like it because it narrows the turf that must be covered in running a campaign.
Still, the “seven district special” is an option that many will find hard to swallow. It seems people are hungering for cohesiveness, rather than the kind of divisive fiefdoms that seven districts could generate. Plus relinquish seven votes for just one? (Not that I've ever cast all seven.)
Under the tentative Charter amendment, a reapportionment committee would create seven districts before the 2016 election. The top two candidates in each district primary would duke it out for the Council seat in the general election.
For a bit of backstory, last year the Commission appointed a special committee of Pat Stack, Joel Guy and Ed Justus to look into districting. They proposed electing five Councilmembers by district and two at large. The trio made their report at the Aug. 26, 2013 Commission meeting, where the minutes state:
Mr. Stack said he thought the time for districting had come. There are certain parts of the County that are seemingly unrepresented. By employing the five districts, which would be in concert with the most recent Census in terms of geography and population trends, it gives fair and equal representation to each of the give districts, and that has not existed quite some time, if ever. Allowing two of the voter getters to remain at-large also seems to be in concert with what has been done for a long time.”
That was followed by a discussion that touched on numerous points. A popular second-place candidate in a district election could have more votes than an at large candidate, but still not win a seat. A candidate could get just one vote in a district election and win. Should everyone vote for candidates who represent districts, as Maui does, or only for your own district?
The sub-committee report rejected the district-at-large concept, saying on Maui it had created a legal problem when a candidate received the majority vote elsewhere in the county, but the lesser vote in the home district.
The report also included the results of previous districting amendments. In 1996, voters rejected a 5-2 proposal by a vote of 9,589 to 8,456. In 2006, a 3-4 plan was narrowly defeated in a vote of 9,396 to 9,557. In that election, districting was favored by a majority in all areas of the island except for the section from Kapaa town to Puhi.
At the Sept. 23, 2013 Commission meeting, Ed said he felt that showed "the outlying communities want to have someone that lives in their area to represent them."
After some discussion, the Commission decided to reject the 5-2 proposal and go with a seven district proposal instead. Ed and Carol Suzawa voted in opposition.
Then-Chair Jan TenBruggencate suggested conducting community meetings to “hold a discussion on the subject of districting.” Joel said he felt the sub-committee had already reached out to the community, and came back with the 5-2 plan.
Ed argued for taking out a range of ideas, but Carol said the Commission had already voted for the seven-seat proposal, so they needed to stick to that. Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Winn noted that people legally would not be precluded from suggesting other proposals.
However, the press release that was sent out takes a narrow focus:
A sub-committee of the Charter Review Commission has scheduled three public meetings next month to discuss and gather input on a proposal to elect the members of the County Council by district. The proposal is based on seven districts with approximately the same population in each district.
Hopefully other configurations will be seriously considered. Given the close vote in 2006, it seems reasonable to again take a charter amendment out to the voters. But seven districts seems destined to be a dead duck, which may well be why it's the one under consideration.
Oh, and just so nobody gets their hopes up, my reference to pupu was strictly figurative. I wouldn't be expecting any refreshments.
Meetings are 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 9 at Kapaa Neighborhood Center, Jan. 13 at Church of the Pacific in Princeville and Jan. 16 at the Waimea Neighborhood Center.