Members of the commission said it wasn't fair to continue omitting troops when they make valuable contributions to the community.
"It's important that we have inclusiveness," said Commissioner Clarice Hashimoto. "If we decide to exclude the military and exclude their dependents, I think we would be excluding a large number of people who are very active members of our community."
Military members have testified before the commission at several meetings this month urging it to count nonresident troops,
even though they can't vote (yes they can) because they deserve representation, pay taxes and frequently volunteer in their neighborhoods.
"They did listen to our testimony about the contributions that military personnel make, and about how they are part of the community," said Tom Smyth, president for the Hawaii chapter for the Military Officers Association of America. "I'm very pleased it came out the way it did." …
But the group eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn't fair to continue overlooking the military in a state where they make up the largest proportion of the overall population in the nation.
"I appreciate and understand the concerns of rural communities," said Commissioner Terry Thomason. "Our obligation first is to ensure each individual is represented."
Nonresident military had been passed over in district lines since Hawaii became a state in 1959, and again following 1992 when voters approved a constitutional amendment to use the total number of permanent residents for apportioning legislative districts. But the meaning of "permanent resident" was never defined, and it was interpreted to mean that military based in Hawaii were here temporarily.
Now that the commission has decided to include all of the state's 1.36 million people in political districts, it will begin work on setting political boundaries.
The commission has an Aug. 8 deadline to prepare a preliminary plan, and then a final plan would be decided following public comment during the week of Sept. 26.
"Just because it didn't in the past doesn't mean it shouldn't be done differently in the future," said Republican Party chief Dylan Nonaka, a commission member who introduced the motion to use the U.S. Census count as the state's redistricting population base. "I think in a lot of ways it was a wrong decision and this is maybe a chance for us to right a wrong."
…Harold Masumoto, an Oahu Democrat who has served on previous incarnations of the panel and told Civil Beat previously he splits his time between Honolulu and the Big Island, was happy to have support from Republicans for a position he'd try to push for before.
"The military really are a part of the community now. Things have changed from 20 years ago, 50 years ago when I was in the military. You were here temporarily," he said. "But now, the military are entirely different kind of military now. They're all volunteers, and a lot of them I think, even if they're on active duty here and we exclude them, they have an intent to remain here."
The vote came after a 90-minute session behind closed doors. Commission Chair Victoria Marks, a retired judge, told Civil Beat after the vote that the commission had received a written opinion from the Attorney General's Office but that she had no plans to release it to the public because of attorney-client privilege and because the panel's already been threatened with a lawsuit.
Though she expressed support for and eventually voted in favor of the motion, Judge Marks said she was concerned about a 2005 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that determined the Big Island should not have counted non-resident military when it decided its county council seats in 2001.