Akaka bill voting relies on logistics
By Frank Oliveri
Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON The success or failure of Native Hawaiian recognition this year has been reduced to three or four parliamentary maneuvers available to the Hawai'i congressional delegation at the end of this session.
"We are now at a stage that has less to do with substance
and more with moving legislation," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i. "It has less to do with the substance of the bill and more about the means available to you. That is what we are working on right now."
The so-called Akaka bill would create a framework for Native Hawaiian sovereignty to blossom. But should the measure fail, or fail to be considered, lawmakers would be forced to begin the debate and lengthy legislative process anew next year.
Hawai'i lawmakers in Congress met with Native Hawaiian leaders in Washington last week during festivities surrounding the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. They discussed legislative procedures that might be used to introduce the Akaka bill for a vote.
Paul Cardus, spokesman for Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, said Akaka would not discuss strategy. He said Akaka was unwilling to give insight to those who might oppose his bill. Cardus said, however, that there are a number of ways to get the bill to the Senate floor.
Abercrombie said: "The reason there is urgency now is that this bill has been probably the most thoroughly discussed, thoroughly analyzed, most widely considered piece of legislation in Hawai'i's history. So a decision needs to be made. We would like to move forward with some resolutions of Hawaiian land and monetary assets. We've been coming to this day since the statehood act."
Abercrombie's version of the Akaka bill passed through the House Resources Committee on Sept. 15.
But the bill's toughest opposition is in the Senate, where Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has held it up all year. Kyl opposes granting sovereignty to Native Hawaiians, arguing that it is unconstitutional to grant special status to any racial group. Kyl has several Indian tribes in his state that have achieved sovereignty.
"By creating a separate, race-based government within the state of Hawai'i, (the Akaka bill) would violate the United States Constitution and create a divisive and unworkable system of government," Kyl said.
Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, has staked his powerful reputation on getting the bill to a vote before the session ends. He has said in recent weeks that the bill could be added to one of several major spending bills pending in the Senate or to an expected omnibus spending bill a giant bill with several spending bills rolled into one.
How the bill is attached to these larger spending bills is significant.
If Native Hawaiian recognition is attached to a spending bill by amendment, a senator could object and have a good chance of having the amendment carved out.
But if Inouye could insert the Akaka bill language into a spending bill during negotiations between the House and Senate, it becomes a part of the very fabric of the spending bill. Rejecting the Akaka bill language would mean killing important spending on such issues as foreign operations, homeland security or veterans' funding.
"In effect it waives all rules and sets up final consideration," Abercrombie said. "Believe me, there will not just be the Akaka bill that will ride that train."
Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said she is confident that Inouye will deliver passage of the bill.
"There is a lot of work that we still need to do, but we are ready to do it," she said.