Case blasts Akaka's pitches to Hawaiians
The challenger says ethnicity does not guarantee effectiveness
Sen. Dan Akaka's appeals to native Hawaiian voters have become "incredibly polarizing and divisive," Democratic challenger Ed Case said.
Akaka yesterday had a news conference with organizations including the Native Hawaiian Bar Association and the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce.
Former Gov. John Waihee also praised Akaka. As the first and only native Hawaiian in the Senate, Akaka is an important symbol, said Waihee, the nation's first native Hawaiian governor.
"Someday we may get past all of this, and there may be many more Hawaiian senators, but for right now it is a very important constituency, and Hawaii's should be within his constituency," Waihee said.
Case was not pleased with Akaka's appeal to native Hawaiians.
"Should we elect Sen. Akaka to the Senate just because he is native Hawaiian? I don't believe so, any more than I should be elected to the Senate because I am white," Case said.
"It doesn't take a native Hawaiian in elective office to do a good job for native Hawaiians. I do not believe Sen. Akaka has been an effective advocate for native Hawaiian issues in the U.S. Senate," Case said.
For instance, he said, Akaka was unable to get the native Hawaiian federal recognition bill, dubbed the Akaka Bill, passed this year.
"Federal recognition failed because Sen. Akaka didn't leverage his position. And the statements that Sen. Akaka delivered federal money to native Hawaiians is virtually 100 percent because of Senator (Dan) Inouye, not Akaka," Case said.
Akaka has insisted that the Akaka Bill was stopped at the last minute by opposition from the White House, and he was unable to move it.
Case says he's concerned that the Akaka campaign is relying on pitches -- like the argument made by fellow Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who called Akaka "the Hawaiian heart" of the state delegation.
Akaka himself tells voters: "You need someone with heart, and someone who cares about the people of Hawaii and reflects the people of Hawaii in Washington."
Asked if he was calling Case someone who couldn't represent Hawaii, Akaka said no.
"He was born and raised here, so there is no question he knows Hawaii, but there is so much more to know. I have lived here all these years, and I am still learning about Hawaii.
"I feel strongly that whoever represents us should be reflecting Hawaii, and not themselves," Akaka said. But Case said one does not have to be Hawaiian "to deliver Hawaiian values to Washington."
"We all believe in Hawaii, whether we are native Hawaiian, whether we are like me, who have four generations in the ground here, or whether we arrived yesterday.
"It is not something that only a native Hawaiian can do. I disagree with the underlying premise," Case said.
Akaka's news conference yesterday was not aimed at attacking Case so much as attempting to drum up support among native Hawaiian voters.
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement notes that only about 16 percent of more than 153,000 potential native Hawaiian voters cast ballots in the 2004 election.
"Hawaiians should be leading the charge in turning around voter apathy," said Robin Danner, council president.
Waihee said the Hawaiian vote could be key. In his first election as governor, he said, his ability to carry historically native Hawaiian areas was instrumental to his victory in the Democratic primary.
"If there is nothing that excites them, then just like any other voting block, they don't come out," Waihee said.
"If I were running the campaign, I would be worried about getting out my vote -- and the one constituency that should be about Dan Akaka is the native Hawaiian vote," Waihee said.
Akaka said the campaign has been working to get native Hawaiian voters to support him.
"I just hope we can get the Hawaiian vote, because we have been working on it. We have been talking to them, we have been visiting homesteads and we have been canvassing and talking to as many Hawaiians as we can," Akaka said.