New civil rights panel might not reflect local sentiment
Several strong opponents of Hawaiian sovereignty have been named to the state's advisory panel to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
WHEN the U.S. Civil Rights Commission was created 50 years ago, state advisory committees were established to be its "eyes and ears" on local and state civil rights issues. It did not like what it saw and heard from the Hawaii committee's endorsement of the Akaka Bill, and the commission stated its opposition to sovereignty last year. Then it sought to revamp the advisory committee to reflect the commission's flawed opinion.
By a 6-2 vote, the commission has approved a new advisory committee that includes shrill opponents of sovereignty as well as avid sovereignty advocates nominated by Democratic congressional leaders. Instead of reflecting the Akaka Bill's popularity in Hawaii, the committee appears to have been turned into a debate club.
The newly named advisory commission members include H. William Burgess, plaintiffs' attorney in a failed lawsuit challenging Office of Hawaiian Affairs programs; plaintiff James Kuroiwa Jr.; and lawyer Paul Sullivan, author of a 55-page treatise declaring the Akaka Bill to be "morally, politically and socially wrong." New members Rubellite Johnson and Tom Macdonald have opined that sovereignty will lead to secession.
Whether sovereignty opponents make up a majority of the 17-member panel remains to be seen. New Chairman Michael Lilly, state attorney general under former Gov. George Ariyoshi, has not publicly stated his position on the sovereignty issue and might well serve as a referee.
Burgess said he hopes the commission will "be a balanced advisory council." However, an even balance would not reflect sentiment among Hawaii residents. A poll taken two years ago by Ward Research, a public opinion firm, for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs found that 68 percent of those surveyed supported the Akaka Bill, while 17 percent opposed it and 15 percent declined to answer. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Ignoring that sentiment in revamping the advisory committee, the commission appears to have opted for a balance between pros and cons and departed from its "eyes and ears" doctrine. The change is consistent with steering away from its longtime tendency to appoint advisory committee members who favor protection of minority rights.
A 2005 report by the congressional General Accountability Office observed that the commission had begun "revising state advisory committee membership in order to, among other things, move away from racially and ethnically based representation toward greater diversity in expertise and ideas."
Whatever stance the new advisory committee takes on the sovereignty issue, it deserves to be regarded as the divided opinion of 17 individuals, just as last year's 5-2 vote by the commission in opposition to the Akaka Bill failed to reflect the views of Hawaii residents.
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