Gov. Linda Lingle, in a letter yesterday to the U.S. Senate in favor of a native Hawaiian federal recognition bill, said the bill is "fair and just" and would treat Hawaiians like other indigenous people.
Lingle described the bill—known as the Akaka Bill for its main sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka—as constitutional, good public policy and consistent with how Congress has recognized native groups such as American Indians and Alaska natives.
"Native Hawaiians have fought and died for this country in wars dating back almost 100 years. They fight today for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan," she wrote. "The Akaka Bill will not change the patriotism or valor of native Hawaiians. It will not set up a foreign nation in Hawaii.
"It will, however, put Hawaii on an equal footing with its 49 sister states, and it will recognize native Hawaiians just as America recognizes its other indigenous groups. It is fair and just—nothing more, and nothing less."
The bill would create a process for Hawaiians to form their own governing entity and negotiate with the federal and state governments on land use and cultural issues.
Lingle agreed to send the letter to senators after Akaka and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye pledged to amend the bill to protect the state’s regulatory power over public health and safety during the negotiations.
The letter reverses a March message from Lingle to the Senate opposing the version of the bill that passed the U.S. House in February. The Hawaii Dem-ocrats hope the Republican governor’s support will help convince senators to break procedural roadblocks from Senate Republicans who believe the bill is race-based discrimination.
"I am very grateful to the governor for her letter of support to our Senate colleagues," Akaka said.
Akaka and Inouye are meeting with other senators to try to secure the 60 votes necessary to overcome Republican roadblocks and bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill has passed the House three times but has stalled in the Senate for a decade.
The Hawaii Democrats are pushing for a vote this year while Democrats still hold a strong Senate majority. The November elections could change the political composition of the Senate. President Obama, who was born in Hawaii, has said he would sign a native Hawaiian recognition bill into federal law.
The Akaka Bill has broad support within Hawaii’s political establishment, including from the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, along with the backing of many Hawaiian civic groups. A poll taken in April for The Honolulu Advertiser found that 66 percent of those interviewed statewide favored granting Hawaiians federal recognition similar to American Indians and Alaska natives.
Many Republicans, however, oppose the bill as unconstitutional race-based discrimination because it would treat Hawaiians differently from other state residents. Some Hawaiian sovereignty activists are against the bill because they believe it would interfere with the potential restoration of an independent kingdom.