Democratic support helps chances of Akaka Bill passage
Delegates to the Democratic National Convention have included native Hawaiian recognition in the party's platform.
ENDORSEMENT of Sen. Daniel Akaka's Hawaiian sovereignty bill in the Democratic Party's platform is a nudge could be vital in the next Congress, but only if Sen. Barack Obama is elected in November. Sen. John McCain has stated he is "unequivocally opposed" to the Akaka Bill, so his election would require a veto override. This is one of the many reasons that we support an Obama presidency.
A veto of the bill has been assumed of President Bush administration, which it says would divide Americans "along suspect lines of race and ethnicity." The administration also expressed constitutional concerns, but Congress clearly has the plenary authority to recognize peoples on the base of ethnicity. The bill would give the 400,000 native Hawaiians nationwide the same status as American Indian tribes and indigenous Alaskans.
The bill passed the U.S. House last year by a vote of 261-153, 30 short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto. Senate opponents had filibustered the bill in 2006, and the 56-41 procedural vote fell short of the 60 needed to bring the issue to a vote. Both Obama and McCain voted for cloture but McCain said he would have voted against the bill itself.
Democrats gained six seats in the Senate in the last election and probably could overcome a filibuster but could not override a Bush veto. While Democrats are expected to gain votes in both the House and Senate in this year's election, two-thirds support of Hawaiian sovereignty is questionable in either chamber.
Larry Sabato, director of the University Center for Politics, told the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca at the convention that "studies have shown that party platforms are more significant than most people believe." If Obama is elected, his Hawaii background and support of the bill also could make congressional passage more likely, he said.
The Democratic plank would not be binding on Obama, but he said in January that he supports the Akaka Bill. "This is an important bill," he said in a written statement, "and if it not signed into law this year, I will commit to supporting it as president."
Akaka said he would try this to bring his bill to the Senate floor. While that seems wasteful, he suggests that such an election-season effort "tells us all that it was Democrats who took this step for the state of Hawaii."
We prefer that the legislation be recognized with the kind of bipartisan approach that Obama has suggested would characterize his presidency. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and her attorney general, Mark Bennett, are among the most passionate advocates of the legislation, which should not be regarded as red or blue.