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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 12, 2010

Revised Akaka bill unsettles Isle GOP

By David Shapiro

Hawai'i Republicans seem increasingly conflicted over the Akaka bill for Native Hawaiian political recognition.

Gov. Linda Lingle, who supported the measure for seven years despite opposition by the national GOP, now opposes it because a new version by Hawai'i's Democratic congressional delegates and the Obama administration grants a Hawaiian government sovereign immunity from state laws prior to negotiations rather than after.

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, a Native Hawaiian and the likely Republican candidate for governor, broke with Lingle and is supporting the Democrats' amended bill with reservations.

But the GOP's platform committee, which will write the agenda Aiona runs on, is hedging its support for the Akaka bill.

The GOP's confusion mirrors perplexity in the broader community about what to make of this rewritten bill that was sprung by surprise just before House and Senate action after months of secret negotiations.

The Akaka bill would change life in Hawai'i in profound ways and confer enormous power on a relative few, but there's been little clear explanation of how it would work, who brokered the deal and who benefits from the revisions.

Nor have there been public hearings in Hawai'i on the revisions, as opposition grows among those non-Hawaiians who see the bill as a race-based preference and Hawaiian nationalists who believe it would end chances of ever achieving true autonomy.

Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka are basically saying, "Trust us," which many are unwilling to accept on a matter with such enormous impact on local life and so much opportunity for political mischief.

Under the original language, the terms of Hawaiian sovereignty would have been negotiated, providing breathing room to achieve community understanding and buy-in.

The new version recognizes rights and powers that few fully understand right off the bat without negotiations and without any guarantee it will settle Hawaiian claims stemming from the overthrow of their monarchy.

Before the revisions, the Akaka bill seemed a sure bet for passage this year with a supportive president and a Democratic Congress.

But the measure, which has passed the House, needs at least one Republican vote in the Senate to avoid a filibuster that could kill it, and GOP support is doubtful now that Lingle has come out against.

Inouye predicts it will pass by June, but that's iffy unless he has a Republican vote in his pocket nobody knows about or plans a maneuver such as attaching the Akaka bill to unrelated legislation.

Videos explaining the amended bill from the viewpoint of Hawaiian law fellows can be seen at www.bit.ly/NHGRAvideos.