Akaka bill needs push in House and Senate
Politics makes the rules in the lawmaking game, and this truism is about to play out between Honolulu and Washington as a contentious election season dawns in Hawai'i.
Voters only need to sit back and watch as the Akaka bill, the hotly debated measure to grant Hawaiians federal recognition as a political class, becomes the latest political football.
It's been lying untouched on the gridiron lately, buried far beneath heftier concerns, including hurricane relief, assorted ethics scandals and battles over judicial appointments. Hawaiian affairs constitute a pretty small matter in the Washington scheme of things at the best of times, and ordinarily would occupy the far-back burners during an election year.
Last week's unprovocative exposition of the bill before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights seemed to confirm that, with discussion settling into the usual superficial, partisan lines of argument. The measure had the sickly pallor of someone in need of CPR and unlikely to get it.
But in politics, you never know.
Following Congressman Ed Case's plan to challenge U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka for his seat this fall, there are signs of quickening in the bill that bears the incumbent's name. As part of his claim to having the superior record of experience on the Hill, Akaka said the support he has drawn for the measure could evaporate should he not be re-elected.
That's hard to confirm, but what's crystal-clear is that Akaka certainly would like to see progress on his bill before the primary election. And whether or not voters support the legislation, the measure deserves a substantive debate on the Senate floor.
His supportive Democratic colleague, Hawai'i senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, is sure to be calling in his favors to get the Akaka bill its elusive approval by the U.S. Senate.
Even if he succeeds, however, there's still the trek through the House. There, the conservative leadership still backs a Bush administration that has not given the bill thunderous applause.
That's really where the bill will face its most tortuous uphill climb, and where proponents have done little to pierce the armor of resistance to this point. The time to push this bill in the House is long overdue.
If Case wants to bolster his leadership credentials, he needs to make sure he stakes out some of that turf. Watching the interplay between the junior congressman and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who openly supports Sen. Akaka, will be fascinating. Both congressmen say they back the Akaka bill.
The measure missed its easiest shot at passage during the Clinton administration. A political shift after the November elections could change the omens, but the bill now faces extremely long odds.
Whatever ultimately happens, neither Akaka nor Case wants to be the bearer of bad news about Hawaiian federal recognition. We can all expect to see the political football kicked around in coming months.