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Friday, July 22, 2005
On the eve of a possible historic Senate vote, a look at the Akaka Bill's history, politics and chances.
MONDAYBattle over the bill
As politicians debate in Washington, D.C., opponents and supporters in Hawaii do battle over the native Hawaiian recognition bill.
A look at a native Hawaiian registration drive already under way and the confusion over gambling under the Akaka Bill.
"I'm not suggesting this is a conspiracy, but ..." Inouye said.
Akaka added that he also thought "it appears to be an organized effort."
Akaka spent a fruitless day yesterday searching for Republican Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who had pledged to bring the native Hawaiian recognition and sovereignty bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
With only days left before the Senate goes on a one-month recess, Akaka waited for Frist on the Senate floor, left messages with his office and spent hours last night awaiting Frist's return for a vote.
"I was unable to speak with Sen. Frist, who unexpectedly did not come to the last vote," Akaka said in a release late last night.
"I learned that the majority leader left on a trip and will not be returning to the Capitol tomorrow or Monday. Although I am disappointed, I am making every effort to reach him by phone tonight and throughout the weekend," Akaka said.
The message Akaka wanted to deliver was that if Frist could not bring the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005 to the floor for a vote, he and Inouye would file a motion for cloture, a process to force a floor vote.
Inouye says he is willing to file the motion as early as today, but in an afternoon meeting Inouye and Akaka agreed they would wait until Akaka could talk with Frist.
Akaka says he has "exhausted" efforts to discuss the sovereignty bill with Republican opponents and wants Frist to honor a pledge made in October to "employ our best efforts to bring to the Senate floor a native Hawaiian bill."
"I have stopped talking to the members on the other side. ... I am going to leave it in the hands of the leader," Akaka said in an afternoon interview.
Earlier, Akaka said, he talked to Frist, who said he was having problems getting agreement.
"I asked him, 'Well, what are you going to do about that?'" Akaka said.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who was born in Hawaii and attended Punahou School, said he thinks the bill would pass if it came to the floor for a vote, but noted that the senators who object are not being explicit with Akaka about their concerns.
Obama added that he thought Hawaii's Republican Gov. Linda Lingle should continue to lobby GOP senators for support.
Lingle, who spent three days in Washington lobbying on the bill, said she supports Akaka's and Inouye's efforts.
"I think it's clear, though, on this, as far as the procedures the Senate uses, we really have to rely on Sens. Inouye and Akaka to bring this forward. This is their arena; they understand it best. They've worked with these people for decades now, and they're going to have to call on all of that to try to move this to the floor, and we're going to support any way we can," Lingle said in Honolulu.
Senate objections have ranged from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who expressed concerned about a native Hawaiian government being able one day to create casinos in Hawaii, to others who say native Americans already have rights not extended to other Americans.
What should not be forgotten, Lingle added, was that the Senate leaders made a promise to have the bill up for a vote.
"I think it all comes back to the commitment that was made to bring it to a vote," Lingle said.
Rick Castberg, chairman of the political science department at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, said the prospects do not look good for the Akaka Bill this year "because there's a Supreme Court nominee to work on, and that's got priority."
"I'm not sure why there's the urgency on the Akaka Bill other than the fact that it's been lying around for about five years in one form or another," Castberg said Wednesday.
"Given some of the objections to it, the criticisms to it and some of the suggested amendments, it seems to me it might be advantageous to take the time to sit down and carefully answer all of the objections ... and get the bill in a form that's going to be acceptable to at least the majority, rather than keep putting something up that's marginal in the sense of acceptability and then getting disappointed about it."