Revisit Hawaiian sovereignty after Bush leaves office
The House has approved a Hawaiian sovereignty measure but not by the margin needed to override a veto promised by President Bush.
House approval of the Hawaiian sovereignty bill by a 261-153 vote fell far short of the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto, rendering futile continued action on the bill while President Bush remains in office. Any effort to pass the bill also would be useless in the Senate, where support has been inadequate. Proponents should wait until the next administration before renewing their cause.
Neither yesterday's House vote nor the White House declaration of opposition should have come as a surprise. The Bush administration has opposed Hawaiian sovereignty for four years, and the 262-162 House vote in March for federal funding of Hawaiian housing indicated the absence of veto-proof support. Advocates of Hawaiian sovereignty seem to have been in denial during recent years but now must acknowledge reality.
The White House indicated its opposition in 2003, when William Moschella, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, sent a letter to a Senate committee maintaining that a measure that included federal funding of Hawaiian small-business programs "raises constitutional concerns." Gov. Linda Lingle brushed aside the letter's importance, saying, "Some person down in an office who wrote a letter does not represent the policy of the Bush administration."
On the eve of last year's cloture vote on the Akaka Bill in the Senate, that same "person down in an office" asserted in a letter to then-Majority Leader Bill Frist that Hawaiian recognition would "divide people by their race." The 56-41 vote fell four short of proceeding with consideration of the bill and 11 short of overriding a potential veto.
In his letter to Frist, Moschella quoted Bush as having said "we must ... honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples." The White House Office of Management and Budget cited the same quote on Monday in stating that Bush "has eschewed such divisive legislation as a matter of policy."
Of course, the assertions by Moschella and the White House that the Akaka Bill is unconstitutional are mistaken. Congress has the authority to recognize indigenous people through the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives it the power to regulate commerce with Indian tribes, and the Supreme Court has recognized that "plenary" authority time and again. Such recognition has been extended to Alaskan natives.
However, the view that the Akaka Bill is racially discriminatory has hardened over the years in the Bush administration and what Rep. Neil Abercrombie has called "an element in the Republican Party that is hell-bent on attacking Hawaiians as symbolic of their opposition to native interests."
Like it or not, the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty has become a partisan issue, despite Republican Lingle's support. Hawaii's congressional delegation would be wise to attach Hawaiian funding programs to noncontroversial bills until a person sympathetic to sovereignty moves into the White House and the Akaka Bill can be resurrected.
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