POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 3, 2011
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka has again introduced his bill to recognize Hawaiian sovereignty, as he has since 1999, but alas, the version he chose is not likely to receive the bipartisan support needed for enactment.
In any version, the Akaka Bill faces an uphill battle in the most partisan Congress in the decade that the proposal has come up short. But its only chance of approval, if any, is a return to the version supported by the Lingle administration.
Gov. Linda Lingle supported the Akaka Bill through most of her two terms but backed away after it was altered at the behest of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.
The change would give the native governing entity broad power from the outset, before even beginning negotiations with the state.
Lingle wrote letters to all Senate Republicans in March of last year declaring her opposition.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was irritated that Akaka had not consulted Lingle before making the changes. He was appeased after Lingle and her attorney general, Mark Bennett, were brought into the discussion, noting afterward that “significant modifications” of the bill had been made at Lingle's request, “and I believe that it is stronger because of it.”
After further changes, Lingle endorsed the bill last summer, as did the Obama administration, according to Bennett.
Akaka, though, has chosen to reintroduce the bill that did not include Lingle’s input.
“As the U.S. Department of Justice has advised,” his spokesman said, “this version of the bill is stronger because it more closely parallels existing United States policy towards its indigenous people.”
However, equating a native Hawaiian entity with American Indian tribes is difficult, especially regarding tribal reservations, as Lingle wrote to GOP senators. Federal law regarding those tribes “is remarkably undeveloped when it comes to the powers of tribes that lack a land base,” she wrote, noting that the Akaka Bill “does not provide a land base to the native Hawaiian people.”
The Akaka Bill had no problem gaining House approval last year by a 245-164 vote. But Republicans now control the House, and the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction, is chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who has opposed the bill as race-based.
Hastings was the committee’s ranking Republican when Bennett wrote him and the Democratic committee chairman in December 2009 complaining about the changes proposed by Obama’s Justice Department. While Lingle and Bennett are no longer in office, their concerns when they were in leadership positions in Hawaii will hardly be ignored by fellow Republicans in the current Congress.
The reality of today’s partisan hostility raises questions about the wisdom of reintroducing the most controversial version of a Hawaiian sovereignty bill. Hawaii’s senators and congresswomen should take remedial action, if they are serious about this important bill having any chance of enactment before Akaka’s retirement at the end of next year.