Bipartisan O‘ahu

One of the storylines that emerged from the results of the General Election on November 8th is that for the first time, in about a decade, Republicans in Hawai’i gained seats in the Hawai’i State Legislature.

With the results, the House of Representatives will have 6 Republicans, an increase of two, and 2 Senators, an increase of one.

While in the aggregate, it may not seem like a huge change – after all, Democrats will continue to hold a supermajority in both chambers – there is a buried Lede that makes this development interesting. That is, the Republicans have somehow engineered wins in certain areas on O‘ahu that create something akin to a block of votes in the legislature encompassing a healthy amount of Hawai’i’s population.

But, even more impressive, is the number of people that Republicans will now represent in Hawai’i.

Let us go through some data.

Hawaii Senate Districts 20 (L) and 23 (R). A hold and a flip to Republicans, all on Oahu

According to the reapportionment committee of 2021-2022, each state house district has approximately 28,534 residents, and each state senate district has about 58,210 people living in it. With the wins in this past election, Republicans represent a total of 171,204 residents in six house districts and 116,420 in two senate districts.

With a population of O‘ahu in 2022 pegged at 905,000, about 18% of the population of the island is now represented by a house Republican, and 12% is represented by a Republican senator. Taken as a whole (Republicans representing the population from both the senate and the house), 403,864 O‘ahu residents are now represented, in the Hawai’i Legislature, by at least one Republican. (One Republican senator – Kurt Favella – has some of his population overlapped by house district 41, which flipped to Republican in 2022. Much of his senatorial district is in house district 42, which flipped to Democrat).

In other words, Republicans now represent 44% of the population of O‘ahu in the legislature.

Looking at it another way, with the state’s population at 1.42 million, 28% of the state is now represented by Republicans.

Now if the distribution of power was diverse, meaning that the Republicans won in various districts that are not related to each other, or next to each other then the significance of this may be muted by provincial issues that don’t relate to everyone else.

Hawaii House Districts (from top to bottom) 18, 38, 39, 41, 42, and 43, all held or flipped to Republicans in 2022. This block represents 18% of the population of Oahu.

However, in their wins, the Republicans were able to (just about) flip an entire section of O‘ahu, all interconnected, from blue to red. The West O‘ahu section of the electoral map now shows, from Kunia all the way to just south of the Waiʻanae coast, an almost unbroken section of the island that is now Republican. This has not happened since the Republicans lost East Honolulu (the portion between Kaimukī and Hawai’i Kai) starting in the mid-2000s, and ending in 2016 with the flip of the Hawai’i Kai senate seat from Sam Slom to Stanley Chang.

Representative Gene Ward is the only Republican representing East Honolulu and was part of the East Honolulu block before it got broken up.

Add to that the Senatorial win for Brenton Awa on the north shore, and the map almost looks like a red wave crashing on the Windward O‘ahu hamlets (Kailua, Kāneʻohe), and pushing into the urban area of O‘ahu, west of Pearl City and east of Hawaii Kai.

Now one asks “okay, they won these seats, what can they do with them? After all the legislature is still strongly in the hands of Democrats.” Only time will tell but if one believes in “strength in numbers” and understands that a common cause is heard more by those in the back with more voices saying the same thing, diversity of ideas – long pined for by other pundits in Hawai’i – might come alive again after a long hibernation.

In other words, for the first time in a long time, O‘ahu might experience something akin to bipartisanship, or at least a healthier debate on issues, going forward.