Redistricting Panel Deals One Senator Bad Hand

Editor's Note: After this story was published, state reapportionment staff revised its list of staggered terms, assigning two Senate seats to back-to-back two-year terms in 2010 and 2012. Read more about the change here.

Hawaii Sen. Jill Tokuda qualifies as the odd one out.

The Reapportionment Commission on Monday approved a plan that calls for Tokuda to be the only senator elected in 2010 to have to run for a second two-year term in 2012.

Fourteen senators were elected to two-year terms in 2010. Thirteen will be eligible to run for a four-year term in 2012. But Tokuda, a Democrat who represents Kaneohe, will have to run for another two-year term. That means she could face three elections in four years.

The reason: Her district changed the most under the new maps adopted by the commission Monday.

Hawaii senators typically are elected to four-year terms, so approximately half have to run for re-election every two years. But because of reapportionment, next year all lawmakers need to run for re-election, even those who were just elected in 2010.

Figuring out the staggered terms could not happen until the commission finalized new political boundaries. The nine-member panel voted unanimously to approve maps that exclude some military, their dependents and out-of-state college students. The vote culminated a process that started this spring after the state received its 2010 Census data.

The commission now faces lawsuits from Big Island lawmakers and residents, who have threatened legal action if the commission insists on counting non-resident military and students. They believe it costs the Big Island an additional Senate seat it would otherwise gain due to population growth.

The Hawaii Constitution lays out the rules for staggering the terms, requiring that two-year terms be assigned to 12 seats for the election immediately following the adoption of the reapportionment plan.

The 12 districts are not randomly selected, but are calculated to have had "the smallest populations of participation in the 2010 senatorial elections," according to reapportionment staff. In other words, how many residents in a newly-drawn district live in a current district that elected a senator in 2010. In many cases, that number is either zero — if that district didn't have a senate election in 2010 — or approximately 50,000 to 60,000 residents, if it did have a 2010 election.

Of the 12 seats getting two-year terms in 2012, only Tokuda's district was up for election in 2010. Eight of the 12 are Oahu seats, and two each are Big Island and Maui seats.

Tokuda did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

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