Obstacles loom
for Akaka bill

Even with Senate support,
it faces opposition, revision
and plain indifference

With a Sept. 6 showdown on the Senate floor looming, supporters and opponents of the historic Hawaiian sovereignty bill are readying for battle.

Supporters of the bill that would start the process of creating a native Hawaiian government expect debate to start on the afternoon that the Senate returns from the August recess.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka said this week he still thinks he has the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, a parliamentary process that stops debate and forces a vote on the bill.

But Akaka warns that even if he gets the 60 votes, the bill still would have to be debated for up to 30 hours. To speed the process along, Akaka says Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is considering holding debate on the Akaka Bill in the evening, while the Senate takes up major issues such as defense appropriations, stem cell research and John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court during the day.

"When he mentioned that, I said it is all right with me. If it goes late -- that might happen," Akaka said in an interview with Star-Bulletin editors and reporters last week.

An opponent of the bill, Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration Justice Department attorney who is now a conservative columnist and lobbyist, says he doubts the bill will pass.

When the issue first came up, Fein said he thought the Akaka Bill would fail because no one in Washington was interested in it.

"For most senators, it is just a hassle they would rather not have to deal with," Fein said in an interview last week.

"It is not true for everyone, but a fair number say it is something they don't care about, 'maybe it will go away and I won't have to vote on it.'"

Fein, along with the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the Washington Times, have succeeded in bringing the native Hawaiian sovereignty issue more national attention.

"The more publicity it has, and the more organized people are, the harder it will be to evade it," Fein says.

On Tuesday in Washington, the conservative Heritage Foundation will present a panel discussion that presents the issue as: "Can Congress create race-based governments and exempt them from the United States Constitution?"

Included on the panel are Rubellite Kawena Johnson, a University of Hawaii Hawaiian-language scholar and opponent of the Akaka Bill; Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College; John Fund, Wall Street Journal editorial board member; and Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage Foundation president.

Akaka and other supporters of his bill say opponents are misinterpreting the effect of passing S. 147, which starts a process for organizing a native Hawaiian government that would then have to pass a constitution, select representatives and then negotiate with both the state of Hawaii and the federal government.

"One of the first things they would have to do is write an organic document, a constitution which would say how they are going to operate this entity," Akaka said. "So when people talk about what they are going to do, I say I don't know, because we are setting up a process for future Hawaiians to take care of their governance.

"They will have to negotiate with the state and federal government, and all they do will have to be within the law, so when people say the bill is going to take back land, it cannot," Akaka added.

The issue is complicated, however, because even supporters in Hawaii worry that if the bill is changed too much, native Hawaiians won't support it.

In an interview last week, members of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs worried that too many amendments could imperil the bill.

"There is an expectation that the language we have looked at will be changed," said OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona. "Whatever changes come, our Hawaiian community should read it and understand it in its biggest perspective.

"Whatever they compromise on in order to move the bill out of the Senate into the House, we in the community ought to really think deep about it and understand it in its vast aspects," Apoliona said.

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