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Editorial | On Politics

For the Akaka Bill, time is rapidly running out

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In politics it appears that timing is everything, except when it’s not.

Hawaii’s senior Sen. Dan Inouye knows the legislative calendar better than most. So last year when he started saying now was the time to move the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act—dubbed the Akaka Bill after its sponsor, Sen. Dan Akaka—people were wise to start circling dates on the 2010 calendar.

It now appears that it is time to pull out the Wite-Out because those circled dates are passing.

The fumbling started when Senate Democrats lost an assured 60-vote majority when Massachusetts voters put Republican Scott Brown in the U.S. Senate.

Even arithmetically challenged reporters know there are 100 senators and a simple majority is 51, so the question is, why does it takes 60 votes to pass most bills in the Senate?

The reason that sloths and glaciers move faster than the U.S. Senate is because any senator can stop any piece of legislation by putting a "hold" on it. To end debate and force a vote, 60 senators must sign on. In its 10-year history, the Akaka Bill has had so many holds placed on it, it must have grown handles by now.

PART OF common Hawaii political folklore is that Dan Akaka is the nation’s most beloved senator. Next to him in the pantheon of Hawaii senators is Inouye, rippling with legislative might as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and bulked up with more seniority than any of the other 99. Regardless, neither has ever been able to get 60 votes to push the bill for a floor vote.

The Akaka Bill is rapidly becoming like the famous Norwegian Blue parrot in the Monty Python comedy sketch.

"He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he’s resting in peace … His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!" says John Cleese.

"No, no, he’s not dead, he’s, he’s resting! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue …" argues Michael Palin.

Today the Senate is inching toward its August recess. All this year Inouye has predicted the Akaka bill cannot be taken up in the fall because there is too much to do before the November elections.

Now the Senate GOP minority may still be able to block the bill. If Akaka and Inouye try to delay the vote until next year, things will be more difficult because there will likely be more Republicans in both chambers after the election.

Although the Akaka bill would fundamentally change Hawaii, it is on no one’s Washington radar. Only on slow days will conservative alarmists such as Michelle Malkin give it a toss; for the rest, it is a matter of whether Inouye and Akaka can find 60 votes and time in the next two weeks to conclude a decade-long debate.

The Senate is looking at starting the August recess either Aug. 6 or 13. If the bill has not cleared the Senate by then and moved back to the House for a second vote, this exercise may be pau.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at


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