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Saturday, September 16, 2000

Hawaiian bill takes
step toward passage

Bullet The issue: A bill establishing a process for the formation of a Hawaiian government has cleared a U.S. Senate committee.

Bullet Our view: The bill provides a reasonable response to the Rice vs. Cayetano decision and its implications for Hawaiian programs.

THE campaign to win federal recognition of Hawaiians as an indigenous people entitled to self-government has taken an important step with the approval of legislation by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Committee passage was unanimous, probably a result of the influence of Senator Inouye, a past chairman and longtime member of the committee. Although two Republican committee members, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Frank Murkowski of Alaska, expressed reservations, they voted to send the measure on to the Senate floor.

However, with time growing short in this session, it is far from certain that the bill will become law. Because there is concern that the next administration may be less sympathetic to the Hawaiian cause, advocates are trying to expedite action.

Senator Akaka, the lone member of Congress of Hawaiian blood, is the chief sponsor of the bill, which would establish a process for the formation of a Hawaiian government that would have a relationship to the federal government comparable to those of Indian nations.

The question has acquired urgency not only because the administration is winding down but also because the Rice vs. Caye-tano decision has caused concern that all programs benefiting Hawaiians may be in jeopardy.

The Washington hearing was mercifully devoid of the strident protests that marred hearings on the bill in Honolulu and of the hysterical comments that greeted Governor Cayetano's appointments of interim trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Although vastly outnumbered by a parade of witnesses speaking in favor of the Akaka bill, the protesters made a lot of noise and attracted news coverage out of proportion to their importance. Their contention that Hawaiians should focus on attaining full sovereignty and that the Akaka bill would conflict with that goal was neither realistic nor informed.

The reaction to the governor's OHA appointees reached a new low in political discourse here, with demonstrators at Washington Place, one a University of Hawaii professor who disgraced herself, carrying signs bearing obscenities denouncing Cayetano. Irresponsible and ignorant comments by several of the former trustees who were not appointed to interim terms by the governor fully justified his decision to select other persons.

The protesters refuse to recognize the fact that the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, like it or not, are the law of the land. In the Rice decision, the court ruled that the former trustees were elected through an unconstitutional process.

Cayetano sought the removal of the trustees from office because it is his duty to uphold the law. For that he was showered with abuse. Outrageous claims were made that he was exceeding his authority for ulterior motives.

But the criticism discredited only the critics, not the governor. He demonstrated that he has the courage to do his duty under fire.

Clinton passes the buck

Bullet The issue: President Clinton criticized the Justice Department's handling of the case against nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Bullet Our view: As chief executive, Clinton should have accepted responsibility for the situation rather than publically criticize his subordinates.

IN the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in 73 deaths, Attorney General Janet Reno took responsibility for the FBI's decision to attack -- although she had cleared it with President Clinton -- and won praise for her action.

Clinton, Reno's boss and the chief law enforcement officer of the nation, did not take responsibility, as he should have. Instead he blamed the carnage on the cult leader, David Koresh.

Now Clinton has left Reno to take the rap in the Wen Ho Lee case, saying that he was "quite troubled" by the Justice and Energy departments' handling of the nuclear scientist who was arrested on charges of violating national security laws.

Clinton said it was very difficult to reconcile the government's positions "that one day he's a terrible risk to the national security and the next day they're making a plea agreement for an offense far more modest than what had been alleged." He added that holding a person without bail was inconsistent with the plea agreement.

These comments came only hours after Reno had refused to apologize for the case. Clinton had shamelessly undercut his attorney general. Later the White House claimed that Clinton's comments should not be read as criticism of the Justice Department or federal prosecutors, although of course they were. Clinton's press secretary said both Reno and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson retained the president's support -- perhaps because Clinton is afraid of offending women and Hispanics.

This was another amazing performance by a president who insists on having it both ways and never accepts responsibility when things go awry.

The handling of the Wen Ho Lee case has been widely criticized, but if Clinton had concerns he should have expressed them privately to Reno and ordered changes.

To stand aside and then second guess his attorney general after the damage has been done was ignoble. To insist that she retained his confidence after delivering this public rebuke was cowardly and hypocritical. If his criticism was sincere, he should have demanded her resignation.

Harry Truman said when he was president, "The buck stops here." It has to. The president is the nation's chief executive. The members of the cabinet serve at his pleasure. The ultimate responsibility for the actions of the federal government lies in the White House.

But in the Clinton presidency, someone else is always to be blamed.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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