Critics of Akaka Bill nominated for panel that would judge it
Some of the staunchest critics of the bill could soon sit on an advisory board
Some of the staunchest critics of a bill to federally recognize Hawaiians could soon sit on an advisory board to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Commission Staff Director Kenneth Marcus has recommended attorneys William Burgess and Paul Sullivan as candidates for the Hawaii State Advisory Committee, an independent panel that investigates civil rights issues.
Thomas Pilla, a senior civil rights analyst for the Western Regional Office of the commission, is refusing to support the recommendations, fearing the office could lose credibility.
The head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission wants to fill vacancies on its Hawaii advisory committee with avowed opponents of a federal bill to recognize Hawaiians.
Candidates picked by Kenneth Marcus, staff director of the commission, to sit on the Hawaii State Advisory Committee include attorneys William Burgess and Paul Sullivan, both of whom have written extensively against the so-called Akaka Bill.
James Kuroiwa Jr., who joined taxpayers in a lawsuit challenging state funding of Hawaiian programs, is another nominee, said Thomas Pilla, the senior civil rights analyst for the Western Regional Office of the commission.
In a report last year, the civil rights commission found the Akaka Bill, named after Sen. Daniel Akaka, would "discriminate on the basis of race or national origin, and further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege." President Bush's administration quoted the document to reject the bill.
At the time, members of the Hawaii committee faulted the commission for releasing its report without consulting with the group, which supported the bill.
Dave Forman, outgoing chairman of the Hawaii panel, said the Bush administration appears to be "sweeping the committees clean and putting new folks in."
"It's pretty clear that they have an agenda that they are pursuing," Forman said. "I think there's reason to be concerned."
Phone messages seeking comment from Marcus about his nominees were not returned. Burgess, and Kuroiwa also could not be reached, but Sullivan defended the appointments, saying they could add diversity to the committee.
"I do think that all three of us would broaden the spectrum of viewpoints on the commission," he said, adding: "It would be probably not good at all to have all the members of the commission come from one point of view."
The House Natural Resources Committee will consider the Akaka Bill today. The measure is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee tomorrow.
Akaka, who last year called the commission's report on his bill unfair, said he hoped nominees to the Hawaii committee would be knowledgeable about the islands' history.
"I am hopeful the nominees will have the expertise to be dedicated advocates, understanding and respectful of the history and people of Hawaii," he said in a statement yesterday.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency created to manage Hawaiian programs, is "deeply troubled" by the candidates nominated by Marcus, said Martha Ross, Washington bureau chief for OHA.
"They seem to be consistently anti-indigenous," she said.
Micah Kane, chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, said: "It is unfortunate that the vacancies on this Commission appear to have been filled with people based on their opposition to native Hawaiian programs. The opinions of these people do not reflect a true representation of Hawaii's perspective on this and other issues."
Pilla, who oversees Hawaii and eight other state committees, is refusing to send some of Marcus' candidates, including Burgess, for consideration by the eight-member commission in Washington, D.C., fearing the office could lose credibility.
"I want people with open minds," Pilla said. "We've had right-wingers on committees in the past, but I can't put (together) a committee that's gonna have too many of these guys."
Pilla, who is retiring, said he would leave it up to whomever takes over his office to make a decision about the candidates. He also said the Hawaii committee has been inactive since its charter expired in December after losing members to term limits.