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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 24, 2005

Lingle fires back at foe of Akaka bill

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has stepped up lobbying efforts against the Akaka bill, prompting a rebuke from Gov. Linda Lingle, a proponent of the bill and fellow Republican who yesterday called recent statements by Kyl "false."


What: The proposed Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005 is nicknamed the Akaka bill for its lead sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i.

What it would do: The bill would lead to the U.S. government's recognition of the nation's 400,000 Native Hawaiians in the same way that it recognizes American Indians and Native Alaskans.

Pro and con: Proponents call it a critical step toward making right the injuries suffered as a result of the overthrow of the monarchy and necessary to stave off challenges to Hawaiian-only programs. Some people oppose Hawaiian-only programs as divisive and unconstitutional. Some Native Hawaiians who want a separate, independent nation also oppose the bill.

"I'm disappointed because we've worked with him a lot, we've talked with him a lot; he simply has a different opinion on this issue," Lingle said yesterday. "His opinion is wrong, his facts are wrong and now it's up to us to make clear where he's mistaken, to make it clear to his colleagues."

Lingle's comments were in response to a report released Wednesday titled "Why Congress must reject race-based government for Native Hawaiians" issued by Kyl, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. The 13-page report lays out his basic argument against the bill — that it creates a race-based government for Native Hawaiians and promotes "racial division and ethnic separatism."

Lingle said the report incorrectly implies that — should the Akaka bill be approved and signed into law — Native Hawaiians would no longer be governed by U.S. laws, she said. "Continuing to put out misconceptions, really, it leaves you with a false conclusion based on facts that simply aren't true," she said.

The governor said she may travel to Washington to lobby for the bill if supporters deem it critical.

With a vote on the Senate floor perhaps just weeks away, both supporters and opponents of the Akaka bill are mobilizing their forces and stepping up their lobbying efforts. Senate Republicans, led by Kyl, have blocked the bill since it was first introduced in 2000, but agreed late last year to allow a vote on the bill by Aug. 7.

Lingle said yesterday she has been getting "some indication" the vote could happen as early as the second or third week of July.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee is composed of GOP Senate leaders and the chairmen of the Senate's standing committees. The committee's role is to formulate and implement policy and help shape the GOP game plan. Kyl has been chairman of the committee since 2002.

The report concludes by saying, "Congress should not be in the business of creating governments for racial groups that are living in an integrated, largely assimilated society."


Text of the Senate Republican Policy Committee's report on the Akaka bill: rpc.senate.gov/_files/

Text of the Akaka bill: akaka.senate.gov/

It was just the latest action Kyl has taken against the Akaka bill. Last week, he inserted into the Congressional Record several documents collectively titled "Hawaii Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand," written by Washington-based attorney Bruce Fein. The goal of that report was "to inform lawmakers and the public about the (b)ill's deficiencies and ramifications," said Fein, who is under contract by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which opposes the bill.

Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees, echoed Lingle in criticizing Kyl. "As you heard from the governor, he's wrong on the facts," Apoliona said. "In fact, some of it, he just rewrites history."

Apoliona said she remains optimistic about the bill's chances for passage. "This is a time for courageous hearts and strong spirits, and we will forge on," she said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, the bill's chief sponsor, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to respond to the Fein articles placed in the Congressional Record.

"This bill is a step in the right direction for all people of Hawai'i because it provides a structured process that will allow us to finally resolve many of the long-standing issues resulting from the overthrow," Akaka said. "It is disturbing that opponents to the bill rely so heavily on mischaracterizations of the legislation to advocate their position."

"It greatly saddens me that the opponents to my bill feel the need to rewrite Hawai'i's history, as painful as it is for those of us who have lived it, in order to advocate their position. It is one thing to oppose my bill. It is quite another, however, to trivialize the history of Hawai'i."

Hawai'i senior U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, in a written statement, reiterated that the bill is expected to come before the Senate next month. "At that time, all of the issues surrounding the bill, including Sen. Kyl's claims, will be fully debated," Inouye said.

Politicians have not been the only ones stirring as the vote draws near.

Native Hawaiian groups that support a separate, independent Hawaiian nation will gather tomorrow to see if they can come up with a united front against the Akaka bill, said Skippy Ioane, a leader of the Hilo-based Malama Ka 'Aina Hana Ka 'Aina and King's Landing Village.

Native Hawaiians would be worse off under the Akaka bill than they are now, Ioane said. "By participating with the Department of Interior, we would be participating in our own identity theft by creating an Indian out of a Hawaiian," he said.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii last week ran a nearly full-page advertisement in The Advertiser that also criticized the bill. Running the same week as Kamehameha Day, the ad stated: "The Akaka bill would divide the people of Hawaii forever and undo the unification which made Kamehameha not only the greatest of the Hawaiian chiefs, but one of the great men of world history."

H. William Burgess, an attorney for a group that has opposed Hawaiian-only entitlements and programs, said he and others who are part of the loose-knit "Aloha for All" have been e-mailing lawmakers to support their position that "all citizens of Hawai'i are entitled to equal protection under the law regardless of their ancestry."

Meanwhile, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement has been holding a series of workshops in the community to educate people about the impact of the Akaka bill.

Jade Danner, information and government affairs manager for the group, said up to $70 million in federal money tied to Native Hawaiian programs, in addition to the jobs and additional dollars they generate, could be lost if the Akaka bill does not pass and litigation seeking to eliminate those programs is successful. A good number of those attending the workshops walk away supporting the bill, Danner said.

Clyde Namu'o, OHA administrator, said the agency is also using its Web page to explain to Native Hawaiians how they can lobby senators about the bill. At least one newspaper advertisement is also planned, he said, for sometime in July.

Namu'o said he believes the Akaka bill now has the necessary 51 votes needed to pass the Senate: all 47 Democrats and the four Republicans who co-sponsored the measure.

The House, which has approved the Akaka bill in previous years, would then have until the end of the 2006 congressional year to move the bill out. Supporters hope, however, that if the Senate approves the bill, a vote can come before the House sometime in the fall to maintain momentum. The Bush administration has not stated a position on the bill.

Advertiser Washington Bureau reporter Dennis Camire contributed to this report. Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.