Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Djou said Thursday that he supports holding a nonbinding plebiscite in Hawaii on proposed federal legislation that would initiate negotiations for a new native Hawaiian government.
Djou stressed that he strongly supports the measure, and noted that neither U.S. nor state law would allow a binding vote on a new federal statute.
But some sort of advisory public vote in Hawaii would be acceptable if the bill is not passed during an expected lame-duck congressional session after Tuesday’s general election, and if it is considered in the future, he said.
Regardless of an advisory vote, Djou added, “I definitely think there should be some public hearings in Hawaii” on the measure, which is known as the Akaka Bill after its chief sponsor, U.S. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
Djou, who won a May special election for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, is locked in a tight race with Democratic state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.
Hanabusa, also a strong advocate of the legislation, said Thursday she also supports more public hearings in Hawaii next year, but opposes any kind of plebiscite.
“The rights of an indigenous people, our host culture, you’re going to put it up for a vote for everyone else? That doesn’t make sense,” Hanabusa said.
Native Hawaiian rights to self-determination and federal recognition have been “more than amply debated,” she added. “People may not like the answer, but I think the people of Hawaii fundamentally believe that that should happen.”
Jesse Broder Van Dyke, Akaka’s spokesman, said in a statement that both Akaka and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii “are pushing hard to pass the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act during the 111th Congress. It passed the U.S. House in February with bipartisan support,” he said. “The bill has been the subject of over a dozen congressional hearings in Hawaii and Washington since it was drafted in Hawaii over a decade ago.”
Djou has been under pressure recently from GOP foes of the bill to call for a binding vote.
Dick Rowland, founder and president emeritus of The Grassroot Institute, a Honolulu think tank, said he and many other Akaka Bill foes have emailed Djou’s offices in recent days to prod the congressman into backing a binding plebiscite.
Hawaii residents voted on and approved statehood in 1959, he noted.
“Then we go split up the state with another nation, another sovereignty, without any kind of plebiscite or permission of the people… (that) is just not compatible with our system of government,” he said.
The proposed federal legislation is backed by most major politicians in Hawaii, including Inouye, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, and the two top gubernatorial contenders, Democrat Neil Abercrombie and Republican James “Duke” Aiona.
But a vocal segment of GOP activists have long criticized it.
“I’m hoping (Djou) wins,” said one of them, Bill Burgess. “But if he wins and turns around and supports the Akaka Bill, I think that would be a disaster.”
Ken Conklin, a retired college professor and ardent critic of the measure, recently wrote that he would back Hanabusa in Tuesday’s vote because Djou would be able to attract Republican support to a proposal Conklin called “a great evil.”
But Djou framed his ability to win more GOP support for the bill as a positive.
“Should the Akaka bill come back to the U.S. House, I’m confident that I’d be able to garner far more Republican support for the Akaka bill — make it bipartisan, make it less controversial, and make its passage far smoother,” he said during a recent radio interview.
The bill, which President Barack Obama supports, is now in the Senate, and could be considered during a lame-duck session. If it passes, it would face another vote in the House, Hanabusa said.