On Politics
Richard Borreca

Struggle over Akaka Bill
tests senator’s tenacity

Something about Hawaii's Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka just makes people want to hug him, if for no other reason than as a pre-emptive move, because he's probably going to hug you first.

Serving as a genial and affable ambassador of Hawaii, Akaka has fashioned a reputation in Washington as that oddest of creatures: a politician who is a nice guy.

If Dale Carnegie could package Akaka's way of thanking you for taking the time to see him, business and political success would be assured.

But this year Akaka, the warm and amiable 29-year U.S. House and Senate veteran, launches his toughest campaign -- defending the native Hawaiian federal recognition bill on the floor of the Senate.

Just getting the bill to the floor has been a difficult task. Akaka, 80, who has spent years building bridges, ran into a solid wall of opposition. At times this month, the roadblocks appeared to stun Akaka, who takes great pride in developing strong relationships with both Democrats and Republicans.

Upon returning from a Senate floor session where he learned that not two but actually six senators had placed holds on his native Hawaiian sovereignty bill, Akaka appeared almost at a loss for words.

As he sought to explain that the opposition "will not let us go forward," Akaka searched for some way to express his frustration and his resolve without offending his Senate colleagues.

Akaka's colleague, Sen. Dan Inouye, is able to marvel at the intricate if not treacherous ways of Senate politics, while Akaka appears to feel a genuine appreciation for every senator doing the right thing.

In the coming month, however, the bill's fate will rest with Akaka.

Responsibility has been a shared chore, with politicians being careful to butter up the partisan opposition. Republican Governor Lingle, for instance, while working her side of the aisle for the bill, carefully notes that Democrats Akaka and Inouye have the experience and contacts needed.

Akaka and Inouye thank Lingle, but point out that she is a Republican, the president is a Republican, and if she could just get him to support the Akaka Bill then the measure would sprout wings.

Next month Akaka will have to convince his colleagues that the Akaka Bill does not set up a race-based government, will not permit gambling in Hawaii and will not confer extraordinary rights on native Hawaiians, as critics charge.

And then Akaka will be point man for the ensuing debate in September. It is a big order for a fellow who is more comfortable working out of the spotlight.

Those who know Akaka as warm and affable, however, are forgetting that other adjective used to describe him: tenacious.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at rborreca@starbulletin.com.

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