Akaka Bill needs airing


POSTED: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gov. Linda Lingle's reversal of her long-standing support for the Akaka Bill indicates how fundamentally the Hawaiian sovereignty measure has changed over the course of this Congressional session.

Any future attempts to pass the measure—assuming the current bill dies in the Senate, as is now predicted even by many supporters—should include full public hearings in Hawaii to explain why the 2010 version is so different from the versions that have preceded it since 2000.

The measure, which would grant federal recognition to native Hawaiians, has been approved three times by the House since then, but never by the Senate.

The latest House approval came Tuesday on a 245-164 vote, capping Hawaii Democrat Neil Abercrombie's career as he leaves Congress to run for governor.

Leaders of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs hailed the passage and expressed hope that Lingle's objections could be assuaged in the Senate version. But the bill has never made it out of the Senate before, even when it had the Republican governor's hearty support, so it seems even less likely to survive this time.

Lingle had backed the measure so strongly in past years that she traveled to Washington to personally ask Republican representatives and senators to support it, lauding it as a way to help right historical wrongs committed against the Hawaiian people.

But those versions mandated negotiations among the native Hawaiian governing entity, the state of Hawaii and the U.S. government over vital issues such as money and land before the native government began fully exercising its sovereign authority and immunity.

Amendments were made last December—at the behest of the Obama administration, intended to bolster the bill's chances of passing constitutional muster and in keeping with existing tribal law—that Lingle considers untenable. For one thing, the bill approved by the House gives the native governing entity broad power from the outset, before negotiating with the state.

“;This structure will, in my opinion, promote divisiveness and litigation, rather than negotiation and resolution,”; the governor said. “;I do not believe such a structure, of two completely different sets of rules—one for 'governmental' activities of the native Hawaiian governing entity and its officers and employees, and one for everyone else—makes sense for Hawaii.”;

Hawaiian nationalists also oppose the bill, albeit for different reasons. They say native Hawaiians who support it are being duped into relinquishing their inherent sovereignty as descendants of the independent Hawaiian kingdom overthrown by U.S. interests. To them, federal recognition is a land grab disguised as recompense.

That the opposition includes such diverse points of view is further evidence that the Akaka Bill needs a full airing before rising again.