FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kekuni Blaisdell, left, and George Kahumoku Flores were on hand yesterday at the state Capitol auditorium to oppose the Akaka Bill during a meeting of the state advisory committee to the federal Civil Rights Commission.
D.C. team slams civil rights panel
Hawaii's delegates to Congress decry the composition of the advisory committee
Hawaii's four-person congressional delegation is joining a growing protest over the composition of a Republican-appointed federal committee for Hawaii on civil rights.
The committee held a public briefing at the state Capitol auditorium yesterday on the so-called Akaka Bill, a bill in Congress to recognize a native Hawaiian governmental entity.
The bill has been stalled by Republican opponents in the U.S. Senate.
Yesterday, supporters of the bill made public a letter from the congressional delegation to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, protesting the composition of the Hawaii committee, which includes several vocal opponents of the Akaka Bill.
"It would almost appear that the commission has its own agenda and its own timetable," the congressional delegation wrote.
No members of the Hawaii congressional delegation appeared at yesterday's hearing.
Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has misused its powers by stacking the local committee with opponents to the native Hawaiian recognition bill.
In the public briefing, Apoliona said she "was appalled" by the number of people against the Hawaiian recognition bill on the committee.
Nine of the 17 members are on record as opposing the so-called Akaka Bill, Apoliona said.
The federal commission is shaping the local committee "to further promote a biased agenda against the aboriginal, indigenous, native people of Hawaii by aiding and abetting litigants who seek to end native Hawaiian programs," Apoliona said to a crowd of about 250.
One of the newly appointed members of the commission is William Burgess, a private attorney who, along with his wife, has sued the state and OHA, saying they had been denied equal benefits because of programs for native Hawaiians.
Burgess said his views are well known, and he thinks it helps the commission to have people with different views.
"She seems to be saying she doesn't like people who disagree with her to be on the commission," Burgess said of Apoliona. "We are not by any means stacked. There are 17 members, and some feel they have a different point of view."
Asked whether he thought he was put on the committee because of his view against the Akaka Bill, Burgess said, "Probably."
"I testified before them, so I assume it would have something to do with it," he said.
Committee Chairman Mike Lilly, former Hawaii attorney general, said the committee would have another hearing on Oahu on Sept. 12.
He added that he was not sure the committee would offer up a position on the Akaka Bill, but said that any decisions made by the Hawaii committee members would not be a mandate to the federal Civil Rights Commission.
The previous local committee, which had more Democrats on it, had supported the Akaka Bill, although the federal commission opposed it last year.