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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 10:43 a.m., Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Emotions run high during Akaka bill debate

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Senate floor debate on the long-stalled Native Hawaiian bill opened today with opponents arguing it would establish a new sovereign government in the United States based on race.

"This bill would, for the first time in history, create a new, separate and independent race-based government within our borders," said Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a leading opponent of the bill. "It is about sovereignty. It is about land and money. It is about race."

Alexander said the bill would set a dangerous precedent for the country.

"It is a reverse of what it means to be an American," he said.

But Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawai'i, the chief sponsor of the bill, argued that Native Hawaiians have not been treated equally with the other indigenous peoples of the United States.

"At the heart of it, this bill is about fairness," Akaka said. "What this bill really does is provide a structured process to finally address longstanding issues resulting from a dark period in Hawaiian history — the (1893) overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i."

Akaka said the bill "goes a long way" to uniting the people of Hawai'i to deal with the wounds that have plagued them since 1893.

The three-hour floor debate paves the way for a vote tomorrow on a procedural motion to bring the bill to the floor over opponent's objections — known as cloture. If supporters get the 60 votes necessary to approve the motion, the actual bill could then be brought up for debate and a possible vote.

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.

Many of the bill's opponents said they were concerned the bill would balkanize the country rather than help keep it unified.

"It's not too much to say the legislation could create a crack in the American ideal of equal rights and color-blind justice," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "It is a step we must not take."