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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Akaka bill called divisive

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, a key opponent of a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill, has called the legislation a "recipe for permanent racial conflict."

In a letter, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl has detailed his objections to a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill.
In a detailed letter to a constituent outlining his objections, the Arizona Republican wrote that he respected Native Hawaiians and their traditions but described the bill as unconstitutional and impractical.

The bill, sponsored mainly by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, would create a process for Native Hawaiians to form their own government, similar to American Indians and Native Alaskans. Conservative Republicans have blocked the bill since it was first introduced in 2000 because they claim it would sanction unconstitutional race-based preferences.

But Republican opponents have been hesitant to speak publicly about their concerns, and instead have used anonymous holds in the Senate to stop the bill from advancing. A hold is a procedural maneuver used to stall legislation. Kyl's staff provided the letter to The Advertiser.

Kyl argued that the bill would "create a divisive and unworkable system of government."

He questioned whether Hawaiians and Hawaiian-owned businesses under a new government would be immune from state laws, regulations and taxes, and asked how Hawaiians would interact with Hawai'i residents who live in the same neighborhoods and cities.

"Persons of different races, who live together in the same society, would be subject to different legal codes," Kyl wrote. "This would not produce racial reconciliation in Hawai'i. Instead, it is a recipe for permanent racial conflict."

Kyl also wrote that the bill is an attempt to insulate Hawaiian-only programs from legal challenges arising from Rice v. Cayetano, the 2000 Supreme Court decision that ruled it was unconstitutional to bar non-Hawaiians from voting for trustees of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Lawsuits contesting Hawaiian preferences are pending against the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Kamehameha Schools.

The Department of the Interior and the Justice Department have raised similar concerns about the recognition bill over the past year, but the Bush administration has not yet taken an official position.

Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican who supports the bill, has offered to talk with Kyl about his objections but a meeting has not been scheduled.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, has been gently lowering expectations, suggesting that the legislation may not be heard until next year.

Congress still has to finish work this year on annual government spending bills, review the Bush administration's request for $87 billion for war and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and resolve significant changes to Medicare, among other issues.

But Inouye and Akaka are not giving up.

The senators met Friday with Interior Secretary Gale Norton and spoke about the bill with their colleagues last week during the Democrats' weekly luncheon. They also sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., repeating a request from late July for time on the Senate floor to debate the bill.

In the House, which passed a version of the bill in 2000, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, said he would not ask Republican leaders to consider the bill until either the Senate acts or the Bush administration takes a position.

"I have every confidence that we would have strong bipartisan support for it," Abercrombie said.

Hawaiians who support federal recognition are broadening their outreach by linking their cause with the struggles of other indigenous people and minorities.

OHA trustees met here this week with the NAACP and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and on previous visits have talked with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Trustees also spoke this week with several senators and their staffs.

"The momentum of support in the Senate is building," said Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of OHA's board of trustees. "Ultimately, it's going to be measured by the votes.

"We know the road is long."