[ OUR OPINION ]
Good time for Bush
to back Hawaiian
PRESIDENT Bush is scheduled to assist the state Republican Party today by attending a fund-raising event at Kahala. He would be of more help to the GOP by heeding Governor Lingle's plea for support of the Hawaiian recognition bill. Support for the bill sponsored by Senator Akaka crosses ethnic and political lines, but White House backing could be critical to its enactment. Lack of support by the administration could cause lasting damage to Republican standing in the islands.
Governor Lingle says she will ask Bush during his Hawaii visit to lend his support for the Akaka bill.
The Akaka bill essentially would put Hawaiians on an equal footing with American Indian tribes and native Alaskan peoples as self-governing entities recognized by the federal government. Critics point out the differences between Hawaiians and indigenous peoples on the mainland -- primarily that Hawaii was a multiethnic nation before it was overthrown in 1893 -- but the similarity in cultural and economic considerations is far more significant.
The need for recognition of Hawaiians was made urgent by the U.S. Supreme Court decision three years ago, in Rice vs. Cayetano, that the voting restriction to Hawaiians in Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee elections violated the 15th Amendment prohibition of racial discrimination in elections. The ruling is cited in pending lawsuits challenging federal programs that benefit Hawaiians and the Kamehameha Schools' admissions policy.
Those concerns resulted in May in the Justice Department holding up $31 million in federal grants for Hawaiian education called for in a recent bill enacted by Congress. William Moschella, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, suggested in an unusual letter to a Senate committee that including Hawaiians as beneficiaries in the law may be an illegal use of race and ethnic criteria since they are not affiliated with "a recognized tribal entity." The Supreme Court had cited that distinction in the Rice case.
Lingle said she persuaded the Bush administration to resume the grants authorized by the legislation, but she added that "this is just a first step on a longer journey." Lingle pointed out that enactment of the Akaka bill is necessary to assure further federal assistance to Hawaiians.
The Akaka bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs but has been frozen by an anonymous hold believed to be executed by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. The hold could be broken by a vote of 60 senators, but White House support is needed to achieve that number. Lingle said she will ask Bush today for that support.
"I think if I can present to him this issue of what is right and fair," Lingle said, "we will have a good chance to capture his attention as a person and as someone who wants to do the right thing."