Akaka Bill backers say real 'bias' is in report
Objections in a draft before the U.S. civil rights panel could block a Senate vote
Supporters of legislation to grant Hawaiians their own government said yesterday that a federal report criticizing the measure as discriminatory was "biased" and ignored the island's colonial history.
A draft report up for final approval today by the Washington-based U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concludes that the so-called Akaka Bill would "discriminate on the basis of race or national origin, and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege."
In a statement, Sen. Daniel Akaka, the bill's sponsor, said commissioners had not sought the view of island historians and failed to take into account other legislation Congress has passed to help Hawaiians. The commission is a federal advisory board on civil rights issues.
"To learn that the commission has produced a staff draft report with biased conclusions contradicts a fair process," said Akaka, D-Hawaii.
The Akaka Bill would set up a process to have the federal government recognize native Hawaiians in the way it recognizes American Indians and Alaska natives.
But Akaka's attempts to take the measure up for a vote in the U.S. Senate for the past six years have been unsuccessful because of concerns from lawmakers, including fears that it could lead to moves for Hawaii to secede from the union.
The federal commission's latest report could create another obstacle to getting the bill on the Senate floor, said attorney William Burgess, an opponent of the legislation.
"If it recommends that Congress reject the Akaka Bill, that's a considerable weight," Burgess said. "That's the commission whose only purpose is to review the implementation of the United States Constitution."
Burgess, who testified before the commission at a briefing in January, argues the bill "would sanction racial segregation of Hawaii" by automatically grouping people who share bloodlines under a sovereign government.
That concern was among the key objections listed in the commission's report.
But Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, a former chairman and longtime member of the Hawaii State Advisory Committee, a state group set up to work with the federal commission, said the report was filled with misinformation.
The bill, according to Maxwell, would be another step to help right the wrong of the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.
"We have no say and this is our homeland," said Maxwell, who threatened to resign if the commission voted to ratify the report today. "We are ignored because we are far away from Washington."
Akaka is talking with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist about getting the bill considered soon, said his spokeswoman, Donalyn Dela Cruz.