comscore There's still some life left in Akaka Bill | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | On Politics

There’s still some life left in Akaka Bill


It is almost time to stick a fork in the Akaka Bill. It is done.

It will be dead by the new year unless our delegation in Washington and the Democrats back here can cobble together a last-minute play.

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, dubbed the Akaka Bill for its sponsor, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, has been introduced and jockeyed around Congress for the last decade. In various forms the bill, which would fundamentally change the state and federal relationship with native Hawaiians, managed to clear the U.S. House, only to stall in the Senate.

That is where it will die, unless Sens. Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye can team up with Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie.

Legislative veterans smarter than me say there is a way to get the Akaka Bill to President Barack Obama for his promised signature, if the Democrats in Washington and Honolulu can organize quickly.

To set the scene: The Akaka Bill ran into unspecified trouble last year with the Obama representatives in the U.S. Justice Department, who wanted changes to the bill.

Akaka agreed to the changes. Then Gov. Linda Lingle said she could not agree to the changes and wrote a letter to all U.S. senators saying she could no longer support it. That caused the Senate Republicans, who already didn’t like the bill, to pronounce it dead, dead, dead.

Then Akaka and Inouye offered to amend the bill to meet Lingle’s objections. Meanwhile, as his last major act in Congress, then-Rep. Abercrombie steered the first version of the Akaka Bill, the one that Lingle did not like, through a final vote in the House, moving it to the Senate where it now sits.

Pay attention, this is the tricky part. If Inouye and Akaka drop the Lingle compromise version and go back to the version that Abercrombie delivered to the Senate, all they need to do is get it past the Senate and it goes cleanly to Obama.

If Inouye and Akaka go with the Lingle compromise bill, it needs to pass the Senate and then go back to the House, but without the Abercrombie clout, before it can go to Obama.

Our two senators still need to round up 60 votes to clear the GOP holds in the Senate, but with a little of the last-minute dealing, grinning and arm-twisting that Inouye learned over the past 51 years he has been in Washington, it is not an impossible task.

Here’s the last part of the plan: If the delegation waits until after Lingle is out of office, Gov. Abercrombie can write to the Senate urging passage; he might even fly up to Washington and visit some of his GOP BFFs, like House Speaker-elect John Boehner (he and Abercrombie started in the House the same year), to get them to tamp down opposition in the Senate.

Yes, it is a long shot, but the alternative is to get out that fork.

Richard Borreca writes every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at


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