Island leaders lobby for Akaka bill
By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau
By Dennis Camire
WASHINGTON — Backers of the Native Hawaiian recognition bill kicked off a lobbying blitz yesterday in advance of an expected procedural vote Thursday in the Senate, where the bill has been stalled since July.
Hawai'i Gov. Linda Lingle with state Attorney General Mark Bennett and Micah Kane, director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, stopped by several Republican senators' offices.
"We're trying to basically provide information, answer questions and rebut misinformation," Bennett said. "We've found a receptive audience with everyone we've talked to."
Bennett said he remains "cautiously optimistic" about the bill's chances. "But I don't know," he said. "Like with our state Legislature, until the votes are counted you don't know how it's going to turn out."
The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, has been talking with both Republican and Democratic senators about the legislation and remains optimistic that it will be approved, said Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokeswoman for the senator.
"But the senator is not taking anything for granted," she said. "He continues to speak with colleagues, and each time he has an opportunity to go to the floor or is in (the Democratic) caucus, he is talking about the bill."
The bill, originally introduced in 2000, would create a process for a Native Hawaiian government to be recognized by the federal government, similar to the political status given to Native American and Alaskan Native tribes.
A group of conservative Republican senators stalled the bill in July over concerns that it was unconstitutional because it would create a race-based government. They have used Senate procedures to bottle up the bill since last year, despite promises from the Senate Republican leadership to bring it to the floor for debate and a possible vote.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said last month that he would try again to break the roadblock and is expected to take the first step today with a motion to force the measure to the floor despite the opponent's objections — known as cloture.
After debate tomorrow the Senate is expected to vote Thursday on the motion, which needs 60 votes to be successful. If it is, a full debate on the bill will follow and up to three more votes may be needed to pass it under Senate procedures. The whole process could take up to a week of Senate floor time.
So far, Lingle and the others have spoken with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and key staff members in the offices of Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a co-sponsor of the bill, and George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio.
Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and Clyde Namu'o, administrator for the office, were expected to arrive today to begin a sweep through the offices of Republican senators who haven't yet decided their positions on the bill. An additional six OHA trustees are expected to join them tomorrow.
Namu'o said the trustees plan to meet with Republican senators such as Snowe, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Elizabeth Dole and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina to talk about the bill.
"We're going to be knocking on doors," Namu'o said.
Reach Dennis Camire at email@example.com.