Democrats have opportunity for another try at Akaka Bill
Senator Daniel Akaka has said he will ask that his Hawaiian sovereignty bill be considered again by the Senate.
SOVEREIGNTY for Hawaiians appeared to have been shelved for a long duration in June when the Senate voted to block it from proceeding. The proposal has gained new life with the Democratic takeover of Congress
, although questions remain about the sentiment of the House and whether President Bush would veto the measure. Those issues need to be put to the test.
Sixty votes in the Senate were needed five months ago to break a filibuster and bring the Akaka Bill to a vote. All Democrats and 13 Republicans voted to end the filibuster, four votes short; Democrats gained six seats in the next Congress. The filibuster should no longer be an obstacle. Eleven of those Republicans did not face re-election this year, and the other two won new terms. (One of those two was Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the leading opponent of the bill who had agreed to stop blocking it from the Senate floor.)
Under Republican control, the House has been much more conservative than the Senate on social issues, and the Akaka Bill might have faced greater opposition in the lower chamber. Early votes in the coming year might give an indication of how much that has changed; immigration reform should provide a barometer.
On the eve of this year's cloture vote, the White House stated its opposition to the Akaka Bill. A letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist from William Moschella, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, asserted that Hawaiian recognition would "divide people by their race."
While sovereignty advocates cite the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom as justification for such recognition, opponents point out that the kingdom was multiracial. The opposition maintains that any sovereign Hawaiian nation should be extended to all people who can trace their lineage to anyone living in the islands at the time of the overthrow.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie suggested prior to last week's election that the Akaka Bill be changed in such a fashion to counter the argument that it is race-based. He pointed out that the number of non-Hawaiians included in sovereignty would be infinitesimal, although the notion of Thurston Twigg-Smith becoming a member of a sovereign Hawaiian nation would leave many people aghast. Twigg-Smith is descended from a chief conspirator of the overthrow and has defended it.
Although the Akaka Bill is indeed race-based, Congress has broad authority to determine and grant sovereignty to indigenous societies, such as Indian tribes. Attorney General Mark Bennett points out that the Founding Fathers defined "tribe" as a "distinct body of people as divided by family or fortune, or any other characteristic." President Bush needs to be convinced that the constitutional issue should be addressed in court rather than be used to justify a veto.
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