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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Akaka bill takes step forward

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON The Senate took the first step yesterday in a procedure to force a debate on the Native Hawaiian bill, stalled in the chamber since last summer.

Sen. Mitch McConnell Jr., R-Ky., the assistant majority leader, said the Senate would debate the motion to bring the bill to the floor known as cloture for three hours today and vote on the motion sometime tomorrow.

If supporters get the 60 votes necessary to overcome the procedural roadblock, 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.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawai'i, chief sponsor of the bill, said he was confident there will be enough votes to pass the motion.

"My bill is about process and fairness," Akaka said. "It is time for the Senate to debate this legislation."

Clyde Namu'o, administrator for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said he was "elated" over the Senate's action.

"We're all thrilled that this thing is finally going to get a vote," said Namu'o, who is in Washington lobbying for the bill. "We just hope there are a sufficient number of votes to actually pass (the motion)."

Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, called the Senate's action "a promising first step" and said she was optimistic about the bill's chances to pass the Senate.

"Nothing is over until it's over," said Apoliona, who also is in Washington meeting with senators about the bill. "Let's get some debate and support for passage."

A number of the bill's supporters have been in Washington lobbying for the bill, focusing especially on Senate Republicans who hold the key to its passage.

But opponents also have been lobbying against the bill and two leading opponents Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas are holding a news conference today.

They will be joined by Native Hawaiians who are against the bill, and Gerald A. Reynolds, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which recommended that Congress reject the bill.

Gov. Linda Lingle, state Attorney General Mark Bennett and Micah Kane, director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, said they talked with a number of Republican senators on their lobbying swing.

Lingle said that in visiting the senators, they found a lot of misinformation about the bill. "Once we are able to sit down and actually review the issues with people, they are surprised at what the bill actually is," she said.

Some Republican senators such as Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas who have met with Lingle and the others are still undecided.

"He (Brownback) said he heard enough to say he needed to look at the bill further," Lingle said. "That was a very good meeting in that sense getting someone to pause a minute to consider something that is not important in their particular state but is important to me."

Another Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, said she remains "truly undecided.

"I think it's a highly complicated legal issue," she said. "I have more work to do before I can feel comfortable taking a position."

Lingle gave the bill a 50-50 chance at this point of being successful in passing the Senate. She said the opponents don't see the bill as a state's rights issue or a local issue. "They see it as part of an ideology they have that is against things like affirmative action programs or any sort of preference or set-aside programs," Lingle said.

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.