Hopes dim for
Akaka Bill vote
At least six GOP senators
have issues with the measure
WASHINGTON » The Akaka Bill will not get its expected vote in the Senate this week, and its prospects are uncertain as Republican opposition to the native Hawaiian recognition measure continued to grow.
Hawaii's Democratic senators, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, held back-to-back news conferences yesterday to report that at least six Republicans senators have concerns about the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005 and have asked that a vote on the measure be postponed.
Until this week, Inouye and Akaka had been encouraged by an agreement with Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., a strong opponent of the bill, to allow it to come to the floor for a vote.
Last week, Inouye and Akaka predicted the native Hawaiian recognition bill would win its final approval in the Senate by this time.
It is still possible for the bill to come up for a vote because of continuing private negotiations with the dissenting GOP senators, Inouye and Akaka said. Or Democrats could try a "motion of cloture," which could force a vote next week or when the Senate returns from its August recess.
But the outlook was glum yesterday evening.
Akaka, who has championed federal recognition for a native Hawaii government for six years, said the news "was disheartening."
"The message from leadership is they will not let us go forward. It is very disappointing to me. We have worked for many, many years just trying to get it to the floor for a vote," Akaka said.
Akaka said at least six Republican senators have placed holds on the bill. Inouye said this is a traditional way for a senator to block a bill from coming to the floor for a vote.
Senators can use a hold to either get information about a bill or block the measure completely, Inouye said. To go around a hold, the Hawaii senators must get 60 senators to agree to a motion of cloture, which would call for the bill to be debated.
Inouye called the hold maneuvers "a crisis" but said he remained optimistic the bill would eventually pass.
The Senate adjourns for its August recess on July 29 and will not return until after Labor Day. Inouye said he is worried the Senate is likely to be spending its time debating John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination, military spending and appropriations bills, and other controversial issues when it resumes in September.
"I can see myself being pushed into the background," Inouye said.
While Inouye was discussing tactics, Akaka found himself arguing the bill with senators who he said told him they "didn't think it would be good for Hawaiians."
"I resented that, and I take it that the feeling was there because they don't really know the Hawaiians, and I wish they could have a better feeling of what Hawaiians are," Akaka said.
Akaka Bill opponent H. William Burgess, a Honolulu attorney who has worked on cases challenging Hawaiian preferences, said the measure's troubles in the Senate did not surprise him.
"Because of the (Roberts) nomination, it looks like there is just too much to go on now," Burgess said. "It gives us more time to continue to shine the sunlight on the bill, and the more people contemplate and see what the bill really does, the more likely it is they're going to say it's impossible to do this."
Ikaika Hussey, a spokesman for the Hawaiian sovereignty coalition Hui Pu, which also opposes the measure, said he also hopes that a delay would result in more study of the bill. Hui Pu members believe the Akaka Bill does not reflect the views of many native Hawaiians.
"The most important thing is that we use the time that the delay is creating to really push the Senate to hold hearings in Hawaii on the bill," Hussey said. "It's a minimum requirement as a democracy."
Gambling appears to be a big sticking point in the Senate, but there are other issues that might have nothing to do with native Hawaiians.
"There are senators who are concerned about the expansion of gaming," Inouye said. "There are senators concerned about extending the rights of native Americans. And there are senators concerned about the (legal) claims they feel will be generated by this bill."
Both Inouye and Akaka said some senators feel if native Hawaiians are allowed to form a sovereign nation, they will be permitted to operate casinos.
Akaka also said that some senators believe American Indians already have "too many rights, and for that reason, they feel Hawaiians would be able to do what Indian tribes do, as well."
Inouye and Akaka said they have assured colleagues that the Akaka Bill would start a process to form a native Hawaiian government, but it would take more than a decade to accomplish.
In the meantime, supporters of the bill said they will wait to see what Akaka and Inouye get done in the coming week.
"There is a chance the bill will still be passed this term. We have every confidence that Sen. Akaka and Sen. Inouye will do everything they can," said Clyde Namuo, executive director of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
But U.S. Rep. Ed Case said the new Senate objections raise concerns for the bill to get out of the House.
"If it has broad opposition in the Senate, and assuming that it does pass, you would expect there to be some cross-pollination. There is clearly going to be some house activity," Case predicted.
Case, like Inouye and Akaka, predicts that the Akaka Bill has enough support to pass if it is put up to a vote.
Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.
BACK TO TOP
Hawaiian group rallies
at palace against Akaka Bill
As the native Hawaiian recognition bill was being stalled in Congress, a coalition of Hawaiian sovereignty groups rallied at Iolani Palace yesterday calling for support in defeating the Akaka Bill.
About 40 members of the recently formed Hui Pu ("group to unite") coalition, which opposes the bill, hoisted a chair adorned with ti leaves to the top of the palace steps and placed a sign in the seat reading "U.S. Department of Interior."
Organizers said the display represented the agency sitting in the throne of the Hawaiian government -- a symbol of what would happen if the Akaka Bill were passed into law.
"We don't want to be in the Department of Interior," said Andre Perez, one of the founding members of Hui Pu. "We want to be what we were: free.
"The palace represents our country, and someday soon it will be back to us."
The Akaka Bill would allow native Hawaiians to organize as a collective body governed by its own constitution and laws.
Sovereignty groups seek independence from the United States and oppose the Akaka Bill, saying it does not do enough to accomplish their goal and would essentially create a new government controlled by the Interior Department.
Other groups oppose the measure, calling it racist legislation that would create two classes of people governed by different laws.
Yesterday's rally by Hui Pu was aimed at calling attention to its cause, restating their objections to the bill and distancing themselves from the other opponents.
"The Hui Pu seeks self-determination under international law and rejects and condemns the Akaka Bill as a barrier to kanaka maoli (native Hawaiian) inherent right to self-determination under international law," the group said in a statement.
Officials said a petition drive over the past five days had collected more than a thousand signatures supporting a position statement declaring, "We the undersigned ... reject and condemn ... the Akaka Bill in any shape or form, as it purports to legislate the political status of our people who have never yielded our sovereignty over our national lands to the United States."
Earlier this month, members of Hui Pu rallied at an Office of Hawaiian Affairs meeting to demand more hearings on the latest version of the bill, which was expected to be debated in the Senate this week. The measure has stalled because of objections from majority Republicans.
Ikaika Hussey, a spokesman for Hui Pu, said he was hopeful that a delay would result in more hearings.
"There should be no vote (in Congress) until hearings are held," he said.