Lingle resolute after bill dies
Despite the failure of the Akaka Bill in the Senate, the governor seeks other options to accomplish its goals
IT IS TIME to explore ways besides federal legislation to reach the goals sought through the native Hawaiian recognition bill, Gov. Linda Lingle said after the Senate essentially killed the Akaka Bill for the current session.
The governor said she will wait for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees and Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett to return to Hawaii from Washington to discuss other options.
She declined to say how that would be accomplished but said more legal challenges to native Hawaiian entitlements are inevitable without some kind of protection.
"Now someone will go in and say, 'Look, they couldn't get federal recognition. That proves that these programs are race-based and therefore illegal,'" she said.
Lingle said she is disappointed with a procedural vote that failed to move the Akaka Bill to the Senate floor yesterday, but the vote at least showed that a majority of senators supported the bill. Yesterday's cloture vote needed 60 of 100 senators to allow the bill to move to the Senate floor. It got 56 votes. All the no votes were from Republicans.
"This is not the end for our attempts to achieve both of those things, which is protection of the existing programs that benefit native Hawaiians and also to create a mechanism, a structure so that the Hawaiian people can have the authority and the responsibility for their own resources and assets," Lingle said.
Hawaii's congressional delegation said a last-ditch effort by the Bush administration might have derailed the bill from getting a floor vote.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said the U.S. Justice Department released a letter on the eve of yesterday's Senate action.
In a written statement, Inouye said he "did not expect or anticipate that the administration of President Bush would issue the sort of misleading letter."
In the letter, William Moschella, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department, cited a report from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, saying the bill risks "further subdividing the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege."
Inouye charged that the Bush administration on Wednesday was "grossly disingenuous" in its letter and based its opposition on the original language of the bill, knowing that it had been reworded to meet past objections.
"Then the Republican leadership used the letter to urge the majority to vote against the Akaka Bill, saying this was the administration's position," Inouye said.
When asked about the letter, Lingle said, "I wish it wouldn't have come out when it did. I don't think it was helpful."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Randy Iwase cited statements from Lingle during her 2002 campaign saying that as a Republican she would be in a better position to try and persuade members of her party and the Bush administration to support the bill.
"All the boasts in 2002 have not come to fruition," Iwase said. "It is she who made these promises, it is she who made party an issue in 2002 and it is she who said that as a Republican she can get this bill through Congress, and she did not deliver."
Lingle said that her administration has worked hard for more than three years in lobbying both the Republican members of Congress and the White House for the bill's passage.
"I'm not sure a Democratic governor could have gotten any Republicans, frankly. I think we had a very good and positive impact," she said.
She pointed to several Republican senators whom she met with personally -- including Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter R-Pa. -- who later voted to move the bill forward. "We were able to get people to come on board who wouldn't have otherwise had we not gone out," Lingle said.
Akaka said yesterday he still believes he has enough votes to pass the his bill if it can make it to the Senate floor.
"Obviously, this is a setback," said Clyde Namuo, administrator for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which has been lobbying hard in Washington for passage of the bill.
The Akaka Bill would authorize an unspecified process that would eventually lead to the formulation of a native Hawaiian governing entity with the authority to negotiate with the U.S. government.
Under the current version of the bill, the new body would negotiate with the Department of the Interior. The bill does not give the governing native Hawaiian entity explicit powers, but instead legislates these powers to be granted in the course of future, three-way agreements approved by the federal government, the State of Hawaii and the new native Hawaiian governing body.
Opponents of the bill praised the vote.
"I think it's a definite victory for all of the individuals, both Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian, who contacted their senators and asked they vote against the cloture petition," said Ikaika Hussey, of Hui Pu, a coalition of native Hawaiians opposed to the Akaka Bill.
Star-Bulletin reporters Sally Apgar and B.J. Reyes and the Associated Press contributed to this story.