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Leave Akaka Bill to Hawaii voters, not to the politicians in D.C.

By Fred Rohlfing

LAST UPDATED: 2:38 a.m. HST, Nov 10, 2010

The American people have spoken. A Republican wave has swept over most of the nation -- but not Hawaii.

How will all this affect Hawaii's No. 1 federal issue, the Akaka Bill? Will it be approved by the Senate in the lame-duck session scheduled by Democrats before they lose control of the House on Jan. 3? Notwithstanding national Republican gains, Hawaii's delegation leader, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, is still in a very powerful position to get the Akaka Bill on the floor agenda of the Senate. Inouye is the nation's most senior senator, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and ranks third in line of succession to the presidency.

But even for one as strategically positioned and powerful as Inouye, it won't be easy. Some of the nationally significant issues non-Hawaii Democrats may emphasize are:

» Stopping a Dec. 1 23.5 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE payments;

» Funding the government beyond Dec. 1;

» Extending Bush tax cuts due to expire Jan. 1; and

» Passing a defense authorization bill.

Does the Akaka Bill have enough leverage to compete with these issues? Could Inouye attach the bill to one of the big issues as a rider?

What are the Akaka Bill issues?

Reneging on statehood sovereignty promises? Remember? When we achieved statehood in 1959, we all voted in a plebiscite overwhelmingly ratifying our new contract as first-class citizens of the most powerful nation in the world.

Is the Akaka Bill constitutional? In my book, "Island Son," I analyze cases that bear on this overarching issue. My conclusion: The bill is unconstitutional because our Constitution is fundamentally race-blind. Special privileges for certain ethnic groups are forbidden.

Is the Akaka Bill good policy? No. We have never subscribed to legally enforceable special advantage to any one race before. We are one people, an ohana that's "all mix-'em up" ethnically but together socially. The sum of the parts is greater than the parts themselves. Our ohana is thoroughly imbued with the aloha spirit contributed by the Hawaiian people along with a deep love of these islands and all who live here. The Akaka Bill divides rather than unifies our people.

Let's look at jurisdictional chaos. Conflict between the various governing bodies in Hawaii is inevitable if the Akaka Bill becomes law. We have enough problems with the current interaction among our governments now -- federal, state and county -- so as not to create a sovereign within a nation.

Political correctness? Many of our leaders support the Akaka Bill because they fear being accused of being critics of the Hawaiian people. But those of us who are Akaka Bill critics are neither critics of the Hawaiian people, nor their current support programs; rather, we are critics of the crazy complicated legislative scheme that has been dreamed up by lawyers and politicians that will affect all of us in Hawaii and over which we have had no control.

Hey! What about us? Does anyone care what we citizens of Hawaii want? Something as fundamental and far-reaching in effect as the Akaka Bill should be referred to our people for approval or disapproval. Our Washington delegation owes us the opportunity to express our views before acting upon the Akaka Bill. That sovereignty could be stolen from the people of Hawaii and given to one racial group by a lame-duck Congress convened some 6,000 miles from Hawaii nei, would be an insult to our democratic right to self government, our ohana and our American heritage.

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