Akaka Bill faces White House fight
The Bush administration "strongly opposes" a House bill to grant federal recognition to native Hawaiians, calling the measure discriminatory and divisive.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said yesterday that the measure supported by nearly every elected Hawaii official, Democratic and Republican, would reverse the American melting pot, divide governing institutions and raise constitutional concerns by separating Americans into race-related classifications.
"The administration strongly opposes any bill that would formally divide sovereign United States power along suspect lines of race and ethnicity," the White House said in a statement.
The bill, to be heard on the House floor tomorrow, is identical to the Senate's so-called Akaka Bill, named after its sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. If passed and eventually presented to Bush, his senior advisers would recommend a veto, the White House said.
"The president has eschewed such divisive legislation as a matter of policy, noting that 'we must ... honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples,'" the statement said.
The bill, which has failed in previous attempts to get through Congress, is designed to secure for native Hawaiians similar self-governance rights as those held by American Indians and Alaska natives. It provides a broad framework for creating a Hawaiian government responsible for managing about 2 million acres of former Hawaiian lands and $15 million a year in ceded-land revenue.
The White House cited a recommendation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which urged that Congress reject the bill because it would discriminate on the basis of race and "further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege."
The House version was introduced by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and co-sponsored by five other representatives: Democrats Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Hawaii's Mazie Hirono and Virginia's James Moran, along with Republicans Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Donald Young of Alaska. Delegates Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, are also signed on as co-sponsors.
Abercrombie and Hirono, in a joint statement, stressed that the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act does not create a program or entitlement, require an appropriation nor turn over assets of the U.S. government. It also does not give anyone title to anything they do not already own, the Hawaii Democrats said.
They said it simply provides a method for Hawaii to divest itself of requirements for administering land and dollar assets to a native entity, which will take full responsibility. The House members said native Hawaiians would be able to decide for themselves the organization of the government entity to represent their interests in a relationship with the U.S. government.
"The relationship parallels that of native Americans tribes and Alaskan natives," they said.
The White House argued native Hawaiians cannot be compared with other indigenous peoples, given the "substantial historical and cultural differences."
"The administration believes that tribal recognition is inappropriate and unwise for native Hawaiians and would raise serious constitutional concerns," the White House said.
Last year the measure was held up in the Senate on a procedural vote amid concerns from Republicans that it could lead to race-based privileges in a state known for its diversity.