Akaka Bill Allegedly Dies In Senate December 12, 2000. Numerous Post-Mortems are Published

(c) Copyright 2001 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

Following are excerpts from a series of newspaper articles that ran December 13, 14, and 15, 2000. In each case the URL for the full article is provided for reference, but not as a hot link.



Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Hawaii's two senators say that when Congress reconvenes this week, they expect that lawmakers will work only on spending bills

By Pat Omandam, Star-Bulletin

A federal bill that addresses the political status of native Hawaiians will have to wait until next year, U.S. Sens. Daniel K. Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye said today. The Hawaii senators said that when the U.S. Senate and House reconvene later this week it is expected that they will work only on fiscal year 2001 spending bills before adjournment. They anticipate no further action on S.2899/H.R.4904, known as the Akaka bill, during this session. While disappointed, the two believe there is a strong foundation to advance the measure when the next Congress convenes, in 2001.

Hawaiian activist Kekuni Blaisdell of Ka Pakaukau said today that the delay gives opponents more time to raise sentiment against the proposal. He and others contend that the bill does not allow Hawaiians to seek sovereignty in the international arena, which many believe is the only venue for true self-determination. "I doubt that very many people have read and understood the final bill as it was revised and submitted for passage. And if they did, they will oppose it," Blaisdell said.

Hawaii's Congressional delegation has lobbied hard since this summer for the bill's passage to address a Feb. 23 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state's Hawaiians-only voting restriction for Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections. The justices ruled that native Hawaiians are a racial classification and not a tribe that has a political relationship with the United States.



Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2000

Native legislation dies in U.S. Senate

By Susan Roth, Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Native Hawaiian recognition bill was dead in the Senate yesterday, a victim of Republican objections that could not be overcome as the 106th Congress draws to a close. The measure, which easily passed the House in September to the surprise of advocates and opponents alike, faced an uphill battle in the Senate because of the objections of a group of Republican lawmakers who ultimately succeeded in blocking it.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai‘i, who led the effort to draft and pass the measure, vowed to reintroduce it next year, saying he was confident that it has a strong foundation to advance in the next Congress. "I’m very disappointed, but I’m looking forward to the 107th Congress," Akaka said. "We’ll have more time and options available, and we’ll be better able to respond to debate and overcome concerns in the new Congress. "Despite my disappointment, our progress was well worth the effort," the senator continued. "We started just last spring, and people weren’t sure how far we would go. This is a tremendous gain we’ve made here."

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai‘i, who used his influence in the Senate to move the bill to the brink of passage, also expressed disappointment and agreed to help reintroduce the bill early in the next Congress. "Thousands of native people across the United States share our disappointment," Inouye said in a statement. "American Indians and Alaska Natives have demonstrated their strong support for this legislation that memorializes the legal position of the United States that all of the indigenous, native people of the United States have a right to self-determination and self-governance, and that this right clearly includes the native people of Hawai‘i — Native Hawaiians."

The senior senator also noted that because "sovereignty is inherent in the people" and does not depend on recognition by the U.S. government, Native Hawaiians can go ahead and start reorganizing their government regardless of what happens with the legislation. "This process can proceed without the involvement of the federal government and, indeed, many have suggested that the process of reorganizing a government to represent the Native Hawaiian people should proceed without the involvement of the United States," Inouye said.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai‘i, who almost single-handedly pushed the bill through the House, expressed disappointment but took pride int the progress made by the bill’s supporters. "We were able to educate Congress and the public on Native Hawaiian issues, secure the backing of a wide variety of interested parties, and refine the legislative language to address the most salient points at issue. I am particularly pleased that we succeeded in garnering bipartisan support for the bill," said Abercrombie, who also plans to reintroduce the measure in the House next year.

In addition to clarifying the U.S.-Native Hawaiian relationship and moving toward sovereignty, the bill was intended to protect programs and services for Native Hawaiians in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling in the Rice vs. Cayetano case. In February, the court decided that non-Hawaiians could vote for trustees for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. But the decision did not address the programs that officials believe are now threatened by legal challenges.

Because the bill was introduced late in the congressional session and in an election year with other political priorities, its chances were slim from the start. Opponents in Hawai‘i ignored it at first, certain that it would never pass, but they mobilized when it passed the House on Sept. 26, and they mounted a lobbying campaign against it in the Senate. At that point, the shortage of time meant that the bill could not reach the Senate floor for a regular debate and vote, so Hawai‘i’s lawmakers had only two real options, both of which required unanimous consent of 100 senators: The bill could pass unanimously on its own, or it could be attached to another piece of legislation.

Crucial week

A handful of conservative Republican senators raised objections and prevented unanimous passage, and their continued objections blocked the bill from being attached to one of the remaining spending bills expected to pass today and tomorrow.

Tuesday evening, the Hawai‘i senators’ last hope ended when congressional leaders sealed a deal on the last spending bill for labor, education, and health and human services appropriations. The Native Hawaiian bill was discussed, but it was not included in the spending package.

"That’s a result we sort of expected some weeks ago," said Gary Hoitsma, a spokesman for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who opposed the bill on philosophical grounds, believing that it would amount to racial preference for Native Hawaiians. "There are a lot of things dying now. We feel that this bill is something that needs to be looked at a lot more closely before it becomes law." Hoitsma agreed that the Hawai‘i lawmakers will have a better shot at passage next year, but he did not expect that Inhofe and other opponents will change their minds. "Some of us will still have concerns, and we’ll be prepared to talk about them," he said. The Hawai‘i senators "will have to be counting votes."

Staff writer Yasmin Anwar contributed to this report.



Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2000 in Honolulu Advertiser

Hawaiians assess bill's fate in 2001

Native legislation dies in U.S. Senate

By Yasmin Anwar, Advertiser Staff Writer

It was a bright hope at the end of a dark year of relentless challenges to hard-won entitlements for many Native Hawaiians. So when news hit that a bill died in the 106th Congress that would have given federal recognition to the Native Hawaiian community, its local supporters slumped under heavy disappointment, uncertain of where to turn in the face of impending litigation that threatens to stop federal financing of Hawaiian programs. While some held out hope yesterday that the bill would be resurrected in January when the next Congress convenes, others gave it bleak chances of surviving a divided Congress with a Republican in the White House.

With the election of George W. Bush, "it’s dead forever," speculated Tony Sang, chairman of the state Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations. Like others who had placed their faith in federal recognition, he had few if any contingency plans: "We’re looking for protection from the lawsuits. What else can we do?" he said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka introduced the bill in July to protect federal money for Native Hawaiian entitlements in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in February striking down Hawaiian-only balloting for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The measure outlined a process to establish a Hawaiian governing entity to do business with the United States, bringing Native Hawaiians in line with federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native groups.

The bill drew a curious mix of opponents ranging from supporters of total Hawaiian independence, who shunned the label of "Indians," to local and national opponents of affirmative action and a group known as "Aloha for All" that is seeking to dismantle Hawaiian-only entitlements.

Among the opponents was Theodore Olson, the Washington appellate lawyer who successfully defended Bush’s efforts in the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the Florida recount. He successfully argued last year against OHA’s Hawaiian-only balloting during oral arguments in the landmark Rice-vs.-Cayetano case.

But many Native Hawaiians who are dissatisfied with the status quo, and not ready for total independence, looked to the measure to protect them from lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Hawaiian entitlements since Rice vs. Cayetano. Now, with no assurance that the Akaka bill will survive to defend Hawaiian entitlements from potentially devastating court decisions next year, those who have lobbied for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians said the outlook for the Hawaiian sovereignty movement looks bleak.

[Haunani-Kay Trask, Professor at the University of Hawai’i Center for Hawaiian Studies] anticipates civil disobedience from a Hawaiian "underclass" that has risen from neglect of U.S. redress for past injustices. She said that in the face of dwindling options for Hawaiian sovereignty, "the strategies are litigation and negotiation" and "we need a land base to improve our conditions."

Yesterday, OHA trustees-elect Haunani Apoliona, Rowena Akana and Clayton Hee called a news conference to lament the bill’s failure to survive the battle over the Florida recount and the partisan split in the Senate. But they were not ready to concede defeat and expressed confidence that the bill’s sponsors would resurrect the measure next month. In the meantime, they said, OHA must do its best to defend itself from two formidable federal lawsuits threatening to dismantle the agency and other Hawaiian programs.

The greatest threat looming is a lawsuit filed by Honolulu resident Patrick Barrett, who is challenging the constitutionality of Article 12 of the Hawai‘i Constitution, which established OHA, adopted the federal Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and provided for native gathering rights on private property.

Lance Larsen, a Big Island resident who claims to be a subject of a lawful Hawaiian kingdom that follows the Constitution that existed before the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, said the fate of the Akaka bill makes little difference to members of his group. "It means nothing at all," said Larsen, who has taken his case to the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

OHA trustee-elect Apoliona said the Hawaiian community needs to stay united and focused despite the setback and that the sovereignty movement is far from dead: "Our ancestors did not fold under adversity, and neither will we."



Thursday, December 14, 2000

Rougher D.C. road lies ahead for Akaka bill

By Pat Omandam, Star-Bulletin

A Republican administration and a split Congress will make it very hard for Hawaii's all-Democratic delegation to secure passage of a native Hawaiian recognition bill, say Hawaiians who support the Akaka bill.

Meanwhile, Inouye said federal recognition is not the only path for Hawaiians because indigenous people states do not require federal authorization to reorganize their native governments.

"This process can proceed without the involvement of the federal government, and indeed, many have suggested that the process of reorganizing a government to represent the native Hawaiian people should proceed without the involvement of the United States," Inouye said. Opponents, including some Hawaiian groups, said their rights and claims for sovereignty at the international level would be voided if the measure becomes law.



Posted on: Friday, December 15, 2000, The Honolulu Advertiser

Akaka to revive recognition bill

By Susan Roth Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Fresh from the defeat of the Native Hawaiian recognition bill, Hawai‘i’s senators say they intend to reintroduce it much earlier next year before Congress gets preoccupied by other issues, which helped doom the measure this year. In the last session, they introduced the bill in July, leaving only four months to move it through Congress in a busy election year. Starting earlier next year will give them more options and more time to navigate the legislative waters, said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai‘i, the bill’s chief architect. "I can’t help but look forward," Akaka said. "Maybe we can see some things in a little better perspective now. I hope that the spirit of comity and bipartisanship we are calling for will set a tone for consideration of this bill."

The delegation’s late start this year meant that they had only two legislative avenues for passing the bill - unanimous approval or attachment to another must-pass measure. The same group of conservative Republicans blocked both routes. Akaka hopes that next year the measure can come to the Senate floor for a debate and vote, where a handful of senators would not be able to stop it. It could pass as an amendment to another bill or on its own.

The slender margin of Republican dominance in the House and the 50-50 split in the Senate give the bill’s supporters additional reason for hope next year because many, if not all, Democrats have backed it. But having George W. Bush in the White House might also cause problems for the bill. President Clinton was seen as much more sympathetic to the issue of Native Hawaiian rights. In a way, the delegation will be starting from scratch again, but Akaka said he is confident the measure could pass the House a second time. The House leadership is not substantially changing, and the Republican heavyweights who helped Hawai‘i Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie get the bill passed by voice vote in the House in September are returning to Congress.

Akaka said all 46 Democrats in the current Senate would have voted for the bill, and he expects that the new Senate will make the job even easier if he can get the measure to the floor for a majority vote. "I’m sure we’ll get some Republicans to support us," he said. "I knew we’d attract some Republican votes this year, and the next time around we’ll get them again. I think there’s time to work a little more to take care of their concerns." All the bill needs is one Republican vote to get a majority, but if any opponent threatens to filibuster it, 60 votes will be necessary to end the debate. Akaka said he believes he has a good shot at getting the 10 Republican votes he would need.

Several Republicans had expressed concerns that the bill would create new U.S. financial obligations to Native Hawaiians while American Indians already are struggling from a dearth of money. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai‘i and a top member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was able to assuage some of those fears by promising to keep Hawaiian money separate from Indian programs.

But the most tenacious objections came from senators who believed the measure would amount to a federally sanctioned system of racial preference for Native Hawaiians.

"Our delegation will have to sit down again, pull all the concerns together and begin to address them, and develop another strategy to move the bill as quickly as we can next time," Akaka said.



EDITORIAL Posted on Friday, December 15, 2000 in Honolulu Advertiser

Death of Hawaiian bill is not the final chapter

It’s a solid bet that the next effort to get a Native Hawaiian "recognition" bill through Congress will be even tougher going than it was this time around. But the last-minute death of the legislation in the U.S. Senate this week may not have been the worst possible outcome for those who are pushing for Hawaiian self-determination. The measure will be introduced again next session. And in the meantime, two things can happen that will strengthen both the legislation and its chances of passing. The first is that Hawaiians, unilaterally, can continue their discussions and their work toward their own definition of a Hawaiian entity. They don’t need Uncle Sam’s permission to do that. It would be helpful if, by the time this bill is considered again, Hawaiians can agree and put forth at least an example of what a Hawaiian political entity would look like. The second is that potential flaws in a bill that slipped into an amazingly fast track in Congress can be worked out over the interim. For instance, there could be greater clarity that this piece of federal legislation does not prevent Hawaiians from pursuing a future political identity that goes beyond the relationship envisioned here. In short, there is time now to temper the steel of the argument for Hawaiian self-determination and recognition.

Some analysts, including University of Hawai’i professor Haunani-Kay Trask, fear that the national climate for affirmative action or recognition of group rights is worsening. This could spell trouble for the Hawaiian effort. But the effort must move forward. In the short run, there are valuable programs aimed at helping the Hawaiian community that today are under a legal cloud. It is imperative that the cloud be lifted or the programs restructured in a way that will stand legal and constitutional test. Meanwhile, the failure of the recognition bill this time around must not lead to impatience or worse. The process is moving - slowly and perhaps clumsily - but it is moving.



Editorial Friday, December 15, 2000 in Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Hawaiian bill will be back in next Congress

The issue: The Hawaiian recognition bill has died in the Senate. Our view: The measure will be reintroduced in the next session of Congress and its prospects for passage should not be dismissed.

ONE lamentable casualty of the protracted battle over the Florida election returns was the Hawaiian autonomy legislation before Congress. Hawaii's Senators Akaka and Inouye are resigned to its death in the current session but vow to reintroduce the measure next year.

The proposal was rushed into legislative form primarily because of the Rice vs. Cayetano decision of the U.S. Supreme Court last February, which nullified the Hawaiians-only voting restriction for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It was felt this lent urgency to the effort to obtain federal recognition of Hawaiians' desire for some form of self-government such as that practiced by American Indian tribes, especially because President Clinton, who was expected to sign the bill into law if it passed, would soon leave office. From the outset, passage in this session was a long shot because of the pressure of time.

Akaka and Inouye, and in the lower house Rep. Neil Abercrombie -- with Rep. Patsy Mink taking a hands-off position -- resorted to extraordinary tactics in their attempts to win passage. Abercrombie almost single-handedly succeeded in winning approval by the House last September. However, in the Senate, a handful of conservatives raised objections and prevented unanimous passage. The conservatives also blocked any attempt to attach the measure to one of the spending bills.

This failure should not be taken as fatal. The bill will be revived next year and its chances of adoption should not be discounted, even though the Republicans narrowly maintained control of Congress. Nor should it be assumed that George W. Bush would veto the measure if it came to his desk. Bush's controversial victory may make the president-elect more prone to compromise with liberals on such issues.

Hawaii's congressional delegation, though small, has much seniority and influence far beyond its numbers. Inouye, one of the most highly respected members of Congress, is a former chairman and currently senior Democrat on the Indian Affairs Committee, which might handle this bill.

Some form of limited sovereignty appears to be the most realistic approach to satisfy Hawaiian aspirations for self-government. Full sovereignty for a Hawaiian nation, advocated by some, is a fantasy that can only impede progress toward this achievable goal.

If Hawaiians and sympathetic non-Hawaiians unite behind the Akaka bill, it may pass. Unfortunately, a consensus among Hawaiian has yet to be achieved.


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