Akaka renews
Hawaiian bill fight

Supporters worry that Democrats
may not provide needed votes
to close the debate

Round Two of the Akaka Bill opens Tuesday evening before the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.

After his attempts to clear the native Hawaiian recognition bill for debate in July were rejected, Hawaii Sen. Dan Akaka persuaded Republican Senate leaders to hold a vote to close debate.

The vote is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The motion for cloture -- to force a vote on the Akaka Bill -- needs 60 votes, and Akaka has been working during the summer recess to nail down needed votes. The bill starts a process for organizing a native Hawaiian government.

Still, there is some last-minute political drama added to the vote for cloture.

Gulf Coast relief efforts surrounding Hurricane Katrina may postpone the arrival of some senators, and Akaka Bill supporters worry that they may not have some of their needed votes from Democrats.

If some Democrats from Gulf Coast states are not in Washington on Tuesday to help Akaka, supporters say the motion could fail.

If that happens, Akaka said he is ready to go with other methods to get the bill before the Senate for a vote, but he declined to go into detail.

Meanwhile, to help the bill along, some trustees from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs will leave Honolulu tomorrow to lobby senators on the bill and to witness the vote.

"The bottom line for us is, failure is not an option," Haunani Apoliona, OHA chairwoman, said in a recent interview.

Still, OHA will need to get more than just Democratic support for the bill and Apoliona said she is counting on some GOP senators to continue to support the bill.

Also traveling to Washington is Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who is hoping to move some of the undecided GOP senators off the fence. Lingle said last week she plans to spend Tuesday meeting with members of the Senate.

So far the Akaka Bill has been blocked in the Senate by a group of conservative Republicans, led by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who contends the bill is based on giving certain legal rights to people based on their race.

Opponents argue that the bill is not based on race but on people who were the first members of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which was overthrown by the United States in 1893.

"There was an illegal overthrow, but Hawaiians made attempts to get it back. There were petitions signed asking that their sovereignty be restored," Akaka said in an interview.

"Soon after the overthrow, the Republic was set up; its mission was to annex Hawaii to the United States.

"There was a huge effect on Hawaiians," Akaka added. "They lost their sovereignty. They had no governance. I use the word 'scattered.'

"The Hawaiian people really lost their pride. They were in danger of losing their culture and traditions," Akaka said.

Today Hawaiians in Hawaii look at the Akaka bill with mixed feelings. Some insist that nothing less than recognition of Hawaii as a sovereign nation would be proper.

Other Hawaiians are concerned the issue is being misinterpreted as a matter of racial preference.

"It is not an issue of race, that's for sure. I'm a proud Hawaiian, I am also a proud Irishman and a proud Chinese," Pono Shim, a local business executive, said.

"I know Uncle Dan (Sen. Akaka) loves the Hawaiian people and wants to care for everyone. And I know people who are opposing the Akaka bill and they love Hawaiians and they want to get to a place where they can care for everyone," said Shim, president of the Kamehameha Schools Parent and Teachers Association.

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