Lingle downplays
bill’s opposition

WASHINGTON » Finally, it starts today.

The discussion on whether to recognize native Hawaiians as a separate nation by the federal government is set to start today in the U.S. Senate.

On the agenda this afternoon is SB 147, which would start the process to recognize native Hawaiian sovereignty by forming a political entity to negotiate with the government.

Opponents have escalated their calls for defeat, saying the measure would cause a "race-based" government that is for Hawaiians only.

"It would fashion a governing entity outside the Constitution and laws of the United States and the state of Hawaii, it would make native Hawaiian ancestry decisive in destiny," says Bruce Fein, a former U.S. assistant attorney general who has been working with Grassroots Hawaii, a Honolulu think tank, to oppose the legislation.

"It would deny equal justice to non-native Hawaiians. And it would mock self-government by denying the citizens of Hawaii a plebiscite to determine whether the state should be fractured along racial lines," Fein said in an Internet posting.

Others, including Gov. Linda Lingle and Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett, disagree.

"I think the vast majority of people, when they understand what the bill does, are in sympathy with it," said Bennett, who came to Washington yesterday to testify in support of the bill.

Martha Ross, Washington bureau chief for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said Hawaiian organizations have coordinated their lobbying with other indigenous group such as Alaskan natives and American Indians.

"They are standing by ready to help. They have all been big supporters," Ross said.

Hawaii state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, chairwoman of the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, speculated that much of the controversy over the sovereignty bill is "because of fear of the unknown."

"There is a lack of understanding. Groups such as OHA have concentrated on educating the native Hawaiian population, so they have not been able to reach out to everyone else," Hanabusa said.

Hawaiian history, Hanabusa said, is not that well known, even in Hawaii.

Hanabusa said she is urging a round of public hearings this fall in Hawaii to explain the impact of the bill.

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