Lingle planning to lobby for Akaka bill during Bush visit
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President Bush's brief visit to O'ahu today will help the Hawai'i Republican Party raise cash for next year's election, in which the GOP hopes to capture additional seats in the Democrat-dominated Legislature.
But it's doubtful the president will make any major decisions that affect Hawai'i as a result of the 12-hour stopover.
"This is a chance generally to boost the party morale, and it's a chance to raise a lot of money and to remind Republicans that they're Republicans," said University of Hawai'i political science professor Neal Milner.
Gov. Linda Lingle plans to lobby Bush for help in persuading Congress to pass a bill that would foster the creation of a U.S.-recognized Native Hawaiian government with some amount of sovereignty. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, could help protect federal entitlements for Hawaiians but has stalled in the Senate and appears dead for the year.
Others hope to bend Bush's ear on issues ranging from the deployment of military forces here to the future of U.S.-linked, and independent, Pacific islands.
Bush is expected to meet with officials from 15 Pacific island governments who are attending the seventh Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders, hosted by the East-West Center.
Such interactions may help Bush understand various concerns, but it's important to recognize that major presidential policy decisions are normally made after careful consideration by advisors, Milner said.
Hawaiian issues on agenda
If Bush announces any decision today regarding his stance on the Akaka bill, it will almost certainly have been made long in advance.
"There could be surprises along those lines, but my guess is this is a pretty routine situation," Milner said, noting that Hawai'i Republicans have not publicly hinted of any major developments.
Supporters of the Akaka bill hope that a little sympathy gained here could help move the bill out of the Senate before the next congressional hiatus.
"I want to make certain that President Bush understands the issues from our point of view," Lingle said. "The majority of the people in our state of all ethnic backgrounds support recognition for Native Hawaiians. They know that what's good for Native Hawaiians is good for Hawai'i. No. 1, we want to protect all the existing Native Hawaiian programs and secondly we want to set up a process where Native Hawaiians can establish a relationship with the federal government the same way that the American Indians and the Native Alaskans have."
Lingle said Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona will also be spending some time with Laura Bush, and that he will use the time to talk about federal recognition for Native Hawaiians as well.
Lingle noted that the federal recognition issue is not new to the president and that it has probably not been at the top of his agenda given other concerns such as the war in Iraq, the nation's economy and healthcare.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said, "With the president's visit, with the governor's capacity to focus him, we hope he will see it's not something to fear.
"And having him here is a good thing, because it gives more time for further rallying of support in the Senate."
Bush is scheduled to attend a fund-raiser at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for his 2004 re-election campaign. He is also to attend a more exclusive event at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental hotel.
The Kahala Mandarin event is an invitation-only affair to be attended by about 20 Republican Party supporters willing to pay $10,000 for the chance to meet the president, said state GOP Chairman Brennon Morioka. The event is to raise money for the state Republican Party.
The party is gearing up for next year's election, and hoping to increase the number of Republican seats in the state House and Senate. Republicans fill 15 out of 51 seats in the House and five of 25 in the Senate.
Capturing two additional seats in the House, or four more in the Senate, would allow the party to force stalled bills out of committee for debate and votes by either full chamber. Having a solid majority in both houses allows a party to pass legislation despite opposition.
The GOP gained two Senate seats in the 2002 election, and lost four in the House, and Lingle became Hawai'i's first Republican governor in 40 years.
"Bush may see an opportunity here because it is a Republican Party undergoing a renaissance in a place where they didn't necessarily think it was going to happen," Milner said.
The state party will certainly welcome the help, especially after the mixed results in the last election, he said.
"They still have a long way to go here," Milner said.
Struggling with security
The Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders is a triennial gathering of heads from the region, who hope for time with the president in the late afternoon, said East-West Center president Charles Morrison.
"It gives him an opportunity to say to the leaders that this is not an area the U.S. overlooks," Morrison said.
Based on exchanges with some of the 15 Pacific leaders and based on the conference theme of regional security Morrison said he expects the exchange to center on how America's insistence on heightened security in travel and commerce affects the tiny Pacific countries. Purchasing security equipment for air and sea travelers often presents a hurdle for tiny nations, he said.
The leaders also simply want the opportunity to impress on the president how important the region can be, adding that Bush has seemed sympathetic in the past.
"A couple of years back, after the last (2001) conference, they sent a letter to him congratulating him on his election victory," Morrison said. "They did register their concerns about security then ... they got a very warm letter back (from Bush)."
Advertiser staff writer Lynda Arakawa contributed to this report. Reach Johnny Brannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8070. Reach Vicki Viotti at email@example.com or 525-8053.