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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 15, 2005

Akaka studies feds' concerns

By Dennis Camire and Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writers


Congressional action on the Akaka bill is to proceed as scheduled next week despite a Department of Justice letter earlier this week that raised objections to it, Sen. Daniel Akaka's spokeswoman said.

The Bush administration, however, is expected to propose legislative changes to the bill that gives federal recognition to Native Hawaiians even as Akaka's staff is "discussing the concepts provided in the letter," according to spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz.

Akaka, the bill's chief sponsor, is addressing issues raised by the Justice Department on Wednesday, Dela Cruz said.

The full Senate is expected to debate and vote on the bill next week.

In a letter Wednesday, the Justice Department raised concerns about the time allowed for monetary claims by Hawaiians, the prohibition on gambling, the makeup of the panel certifying who would be part of a Native Hawaiian government and the possible interference with U.S. military operations.

The department also raised the issue of the constitutionality of recognizing Native Hawaiians, but suggested several changes that might resolve the administration's concerns.

Dela Cruz said the letter is not expected to delay action on the bill and that she fully expects it will be heard "come Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."

Despite the problems raised by the Justice Department, one of the six Republicans supporting the bill — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee — reiterated his support for the measure yesterday and offered help on a solution.

"The senator is aware of the Department of Justice's concerns and hopes that the department will work with the bill's sponsors to address them," said Andrea Jones, spokesman for McCain. "In deference to the strong support for this legislation by Hawai'i's congressional delegation, its governor and its Legislature, the senator intends to vote for the measure."

The bill, originally introduced in 2000, calls for the federal government to recognize Native Hawaiians just as it recognizes American Indians and Alaska natives.


The measure would create a framework for Native Hawaiian governance, which would be able to negotiate with the United States and Hawai'i over disposition of Native Hawaiian assets.

Hawai'i officials, including Gov. Linda Lingle, Attorney General Mark Bennett, Clyde Namu'o, administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and eight of the nine members of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees, are scheduled to attend debate on the bill in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, a local group that objects to the bill once again created a stir with a controversial new poll.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a nonprofit group that has focused on opposing tax increases and other conservative causes in the past, said its latest poll indicates that up to 2 to 1 of its respondents do not support the Akaka bill.

Richard Rowland, the group's president, said 20,504 people in Hawai'i responded to an automated survey question about race-based preferences. Of those respondents, 10,694 people (52 percent) said they oppose such legislation, 5,197 (25 percent) indicating support, and 4,613 (22 percent) gave no response.

The poll was taken by ccAdvertising of Herndon, Va. The company's Web site notes, among other things, that it helped Republicans win election campaigns and aided in the defeat of a tax increase initiative in Alabama.

OHA administrator Namu'o said the poll asks leading questions and is inaccurate in its premise.

Namu'o said what is leading is the question asked of respondents just before the Akaka bill question. It asks respondents if they support "laws that provide preferences for people groups based on their race."

Said Namu'o: "If you were to ask me (that question), just as an American, I would find that offensive."


Namu'o said the Akaka bill question itself is incorrect because it says the measure "would allow Native Hawaiians to create their own government not subject to all the same laws, regulations and taxes that apply to other citizens of Hawaii."

Local pollster Don Clegg, who has conducted surveys for political candidates for the past 25 years, was asked by The Advertiser to review the poll.

"The survey may have some validity but the attempts to influence the outcome and selective reporting of results diminishes the survey's credibility in all areas," said Clegg, who said he took the poll when he was called at home.

Clegg said he was troubled by the racial preference question. "When they put questions like this in, it tells me that this group is not looking for answers," Clegg said. "They're looking for results that support their own preconceived opinions. That then makes me doubt the rest of the survey when in fact it may have some validity."

Grassroot Institute officials said OHA's own poll, done by Ward Research in October 2003, was misleading. That poll showed 86 percent of people identifying themselves as Native Hawaiians and 78 percent of non-Hawaiian participants support federal recognition, while 72 percent of Native Hawaiians and 53 percent of non-Hawaiians supported the idea of creating a Hawaiian government.