Friday, May 25, 2001

Senate shift
aids Native bill

A Democratic majority may
advance a bill to give native
Hawaiians federal recognition

By Pat Omandam

Supporters of a bill giving native Hawaiians the same federal recognition as Native Americans say the shake-up in the U.S. Senate has bolstered chances of its passage.

"The process might be quicker and more certain. There's no question in my mind as to the appropriateness of it," said Beadie Kanahele Dawson, a member of a native Hawaiian task force that helped draft the bill.

The surprise departure of Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont from the GOP to a political independent in the next few weeks will give Democrats a one-vote majority control of the 100-member Senate. As the ranking Democrat and current vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Inouye is expected to assume the chairmanship of the committee from Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R, Colorado).

The legislation, known as the Akaka bill, is pending before the Indian Affairs panel. A companion bill was approved by the House Resources Committee last week.

The latest version of the Akaka bill provides a process for federal recognition of a native Hawaiian governing entity. It calls for an office within the Department of the Interior to focus on Hawaiian issues and to serve as a liaison between Hawaiians and the federal government.

Inouye said yesterday he intends to give Campbell the committee's vice chairmanship. He said the two have a collaborative working relationship he hopes to continue.

Paul Cardus, spokesman for Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, said bipartisanship helped pass the bill out of committee last year, and he expects the same this time around.

The U.S. House approved the bill last year. The Senate did not take action on the proposal.

Cardus said having a Democratic majority in the Senate will help address concerns and objections that come up as the legislation moves. A few Republican senators last fall questioned the Hawaiian recognition bill. "The key issue has always been working with the Bush administration to educate them and gain their support for the legislation, and that's a task that hasn't changed whether you're in the majority or minority," Cardus said.

Locally, Hawaii Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Lingle has previously said she supports the Hawaiian recognition bill. At the GOP convention last weekend on Maui, Republicans passed a party platform plank also supporting the Akaka bill.

"I think it may make it easier to get the Hawaiian recognition bill passed, and to that extent that is passes, the local Republican party will play a big role in trying to convince the president that is something we think would be very good," Lingle said yesterday.

Dawson said she hopes President Bush will recognize that Hawaiians need him to sign this bill. She stressed the bill has nothing to do with minority rights. "I don't see him as taking a hard stand against it even though he isn't too sympathetic to minority rights," she said.

Rowena Akana, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, said bipartisanship is needed if the bill is to past.

She said the legislation was scheduled to be heard in September. It's possible Inouye may speed up the discussion, given the bill ran out of time last year after it was introduced in September 2000, she said.

"I think that whether its Democrat or Republican, Hawaiians should always be thinking about appealing to both parties and to ask them to do what's right," Akana said.

Clifton’s judgeship

By Richard Borreca

As the power in the U.S. Senate shifted from the Republicans to the Democrats, the chances of a speedy federal court appointment for Honolulu attorney Richard Clifton appear clouded.

While Clifton's credentials are not questioned, since his name has not yet been formally submitted to the senate judiciary committee means it is likely that it will be handled by Democrats, not Republicans.

Clifton, a partner in the law firm of Cades Schutte Fleming and Wright, is the leading candidate for appointment to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He declined to comment.

While U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye doesn't sit on the judiciary committee, as the third ranking Democrat in the senate his opinion counts. Yesterday Inouye said no one has talked to him and he isn't prepared to support an unknown attorney.

He recalled that when present federal judges David Ezra and Alan Kay were nominated by former President Ronald Reagan, Inouye meet with them before the nomination.

"I introduced them to the (judiciary) committee and I voted for them," Inouye said.

Inouye said it wasn't a matter of Republican or Democratic politics, but simply learning about the nominee.

"I am not that partisan, but if they want me to be cooperative, don't treat me like dirt."

"I don't think the people of Hawaii would want their senator to be treated that way," he said.

In response, Hawaii GOP chairwoman, Linda Lingle said it was too early to start a round of introductions because President Bush hasn't sent down Clifton's name.

"I think it would be inappropriate to approach senators before the name goes down," Lingle said.

"If he (Inouye) has an opportunity to support Clifton he will understand why the Republican Party has been in such unanimous support for him" Lingle said.

Clifton has served as volunteer attorney for the local Republican Party, and also legal counsel for the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns of Pat Saiki and Lingle. He is presently a Republican appointment to the state reapportionment commission.

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