Keeping a wary
eye on Washington
Some native Hawaiians believeBy Pat Omandam
the November elections could be
the turning point for a change
in political status
FOR many Americans, where Al Gore and George W. Bush stand on issues like taxation, welfare and campaign finance reform will help decide who gets their vote as president of the United States come November.
Allegiance to a political party, too, will be a factor.
For Hawaiians, however, something unique may be at stake: The chance for federal recognition of their political status as a native people.
"From my own experience, I think the Republicans have never been in support of the native Hawaiians. They've never come out and supported them on these issues," said Kinau Boyd Kamalii, who as chairwoman of the 1980 Native Hawaiian Study Commission could not get the Reagan Administration to seriously act on Hawaiian issues.
"So I'm for Gore. I will not leave it up to the Republicans," said Kamalii, who was once active in the Hawaii Republican Party but later resigned.
Kahu Charles K. Maxwell, who heads a Hawaiian advisory committee on native issues for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, said he's worried passage of a Hawaiian bill will come down to politics under a new Bush administration. Candidate Bush, like his father, knows the Democrats control Hawaii, he said.
George W. Bush
REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL
"He will definitely be open to a dialogue with Hawaiian
groups about legislation affecting native Hawaiian rights,"
| says Barbara Marumoto, who heads his campaign here.
DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL
"I think the Republicans have never been in support of
the native Hawaiians. .... So I'm for Gore," says
Kinau Boyd Kamalii, head of the 1980
Native Hawaiian Study Commission.
For example, Maxwell said, it took a lot of lobbying to get President George Bush to sign the 1993 bill that returned Kahoolawe to the state until it can be cleaned of ordnance and transferred to a recognized sovereign Hawaiian entity.
"We've got more chances with Gore than we've got with Bush," Maxwell said.
Officials at Bush's campaign headquarters in Austin, Texas, had no information Friday on Bush's policy on native Hawaiian issues, and referred to his campaign Web site. Information on his affirmative action policies list him as opposed to racial preferences.
State Rep. Barbara Marumoto (R, Waialae Iki), who heads Bush's presidential campaign in Hawaii, said Bush is committed to an accessible government that listens to all of its people.
"He would definitely be open to a dialogue with Hawaiian groups about legislation affecting native Hawaiian rights," Marumoto said.
"I believe that as president, he could reach consensus with native Hawaiians on issues that have been avoided by the Clinton-Gore administration," she said.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka have a lot of clout in Congress. Nonetheless, there would be many obstacles in a Republican-controlled Congress to a bill that would protect native programs after the Rice vs. Cayetano decision.
Many in the Hawaiian community believe indigenous issues will rise or fall on the political mood of the executive administration, of Congress, of the judicial branch.
Already, there is a sense that affirmative action and minority programs may be endangered, said former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein. "If you look at the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court ... there's a lot of backsliding on programs that help minorities," he said.
"And that's the danger that we risk when we talk 'til the cows come home," he added. "We need action."
Richard A. Monette, member of the Anishinabe Nation in the Great Lakes region and professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, believes all three branches of the federal government could individually recognize a Hawaiian nation, just as they have with several Indian tribes.
Monette, who spoke to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board last week, said federal recognition and a political relationship with the federal government is paramount to Hawaiian independence. But before that can happen, he said, Hawaiians needed to recognize their leaders and their own government.
"Once that happens, the state and federal recognition comes much more readily," said Monette, a past president of the Native American Bar Association.
Already, Hawaii's congressional delegation has forged a task force to try to reach consensus at home.
Inouye acknowledged the work ahead is a challenge, while Akaka has noted urgency because of the presidential elections.
Paul Cardus, Akaka's press secretary, said the Clinton administration more than prior administrations has supported federal programs for Hawaiians, including the 1993 apology resolution, the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act and the reconciliation process.
"I'd say from 1980 to 1992, you had an executive branch that was disinterested and occasionally hostile to the federal responsibility to native Hawaiians," he said.
While optimistic these steps will continue, Cardus agreed that passage of a bill recognizing Hawaiians' political status will depend on who sits in the White House and who is in the halls of Congress.
These are the likely steps to be taken by a bill to recognize Hawaiians' political status, according to Paul Cardus, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka:
Winding road for bills
Bill would be introduced in the House and Senate, then be referred to a subject committee depending on the actual language of the measure. One possible route, since this bill deals with native issues, is the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, where Akaka and Sen. Daniel Inouye serve as members.
Another possible Senate route is through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In the House, the House Resource Committee handles all native American and native Hawaiian issues.
It would be up to the committee chairpersons to decide whether a bill will be heard and if the measure returns to the full floor of the House or Senate for debate. Throughout this process, a bill may be amended in any way or even face a filibuster, in which senators make long speeches or introduce irrelevant issues to obstruct passage of a bill.
For a measure that survives, Senate and House leaders must then decide which version of the bill to adopt. The measure gets worked over a final time in conference committee to see whether it should be sent to the president for approval.