Bill's defeat may spring Akaka to victory
A DEFEAT in Washington might be just what U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka's campaign needs for a November victory back here in Hawaii.
Last week his colleagues turned back Akaka's nearly seven-year quest for a native Hawaiian sovereignty recognition bill. In its final days, the bill was more noted for its dwindling support than its chances of passage, as first the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and then the Bush administration urged rejection. In the end, the Senate declined to break the holds placed on it by several Republicans, and the Akaka Bill never got to the floor for a vote.
But within that defeat there is at least half of what could be a winning strategy for Akaka's fall re-election campaign against U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
For those both cynical and pragmatic enough to run a winning political campaign, the victorious formula is a mixture of opportunities presented.
For Akaka, last week's defeat was not so much a failure for him, but a victory for opponents of the Akaka Bill. Akaka did not falter; George Bush and the Republicans beat him. If the bill had reached the floor for a vote it would have had enough votes for passage, as 56 senators voted to break the hold, but Akaka needed 60 votes to move the cloture motion.
Observers and politicians already are saying off the record that the Hawaii Democrat now is free to blame the Republicans for his bill's defeat. Rep. Neil Abercrombie has spent years defining the Akaka Bill opponents as "racists," so it will not be hard to heat up the campaign year rhetoric and GOP bashing.
Akaka also can use the summer and fall stump time to talk about what might have been if his bill had passed. In doing so, he will be free to gloss over the measure's controversial issues, which have multiplied as publicity rose about the bill.
For instance, despite assurances by supporters, critics feared the bill would destroy local property values and plunge the state into economic uncertainty, with investors unwilling to risk money in a state with a oddly bifurcated legal system. Others have said the Akaka Bill would threaten land now owned or laws now passed if they became subject to the rule of a native Hawaiian authority. Although those objections have been disputed, Akaka is spared having to defend the bill against those sort of worries, because it didn't pass.
And it opens a precarious strategy for his Democratic opponent, Ed Case. If Case rushes to say he could have done better, it invites comparison of the influence and seniority of a three-term incumbent such as Akaka with Case's few years of congressional duty.
The Senate's rebuff, however, gives Akaka a chance to raise the hopes for a just and final decision if he is returned to office.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com