Hawaii gets persistent requests for Obama birth certificate
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
More than a year after his historic election, requests for President Obama's birth certificate continue to pour into the state's understaffed Health Department from people on the Mainland who refuse to believe he was born in Honolulu in 1961.
In an attempt to stem the flow of requests, the agency recently set up a special page on its Web site devoted to the issue of Obama's birth certificate and who is eligible to get the records.
But the requests for the president's birth certificate keeping coming at a rate of 40 to 50 a month, according to Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo, who has been handling the requests since Obama became a serious presidential candidate in 2008.
"They're spurred on by these 'birther' blogs who direct them to bombard the Health Department even though they have no legitimate right to the information," Okubo said.
"They've been misled to believe that the state of Hawai'i gives out birth information to anyone who requests it, but really our law protects birth information. We're entrusted with protecting people's vital records. To open them up would mean opening them up to identity theft and other types of concerns."
State law allows birth certificates to be issued to family members, legal guard- ians, representatives of a person's estate, or by court order or other legal purposes.
Okubo said those who have been requesting Obama's birth certificate don't meet the legal standards.
Rick Newbold, a defense contractor from North Carolina now working in Iraq, asked the Health Department and the White House for Obama's birth records, in part, because Newbold believes it's "hypocritical of the president to proclaim that his administration is transparent when it obviously is not," he wrote in an e-mail to The Advertiser.
"My interest in discovering and defending the truth about our chief executive is to maintain the integrity of the office of the president and to protect our republic from subversion, especially from foreign powers. America is in decline as a result of the globalist mindset and monied interests who seek to destroy America and integrate it into a global system of governance and taxation."
The continuing issue over Obama's birthplace — and, therefore, his eligibility to serve as president of the United States — has led state Sen. Will Espero, D-20th, ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu) to introduce two bills this session on different sides of the issue.
Senate Bill 2056 would open up Hawai'i birth records under strict conditions to people who currently have no legitimate right to see them. Senate Bill 2937 would allow state agencies to label people who persistently "abuse" the public information process as "vexatious requestors," which would allow state officials to deny their requests for documents.
Espero does not necessarily believe that everyone should see birth certificates that are now restricted, but said he wrote the bills to trigger legislative hearings to discuss the issue.
"It's all because of the noise about the president not being born here," Espero said.
"I believe he's born here. Most of Hawai'i believes he's born here and it's not an issue here as it is with these Mainland birthers. It probably would not end all of the controversy because I believe the people that are these birthers have some other motives. Whatever you say or provide to these people, they will not be happy with anything."
State Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino — a Republican — tried to put the issue of Obama's Honolulu birth to rest back in 2008 by declaring that she and Hawai'i's registrar of vital statistics had personally seen Obama's birth certificate.
"This has gotten ridiculous," Fukino told The Advertiser at the time. "There are plenty of other, important things to focus on, like the economy, taxes, energy. ... We need to get some work done."
The Health Department's vital records division deals with about 1,000 new birth, death and marriage records every week, even as staffers are required to take two mandatory unpaid furlough days off each month. Four people in the office also recently lost their jobs because of budget cuts.
So the task of responding to requests for Obama's birth certificate has fallen to Okubo, who until January had been spending 10-hour days primarily dealing with the H1N1 "swine flu" pandemic.
"I'm getting 40 to 50 requests every month for President Obama's birth certificate, all of them from the Mainland — Arizona, South Carolina, Florida," Okubo said. "None are from Hawai'i."
Attorney Jeff Portnoy, who represents The Advertiser, has made a career out of fighting for public access to government records and believes that county and state officials need to be more open about what they do.
"On paper, the present state laws regarding access are very impressive, both philosophically and technically, in talking about that in a democracy, the public should have access to the workings of government," Portnoy said. "Practically, the interpretation of those laws leaves a lot to be desired."
The reality, Portnoy said, is that "Hawai'i has a significant reputation as being a hostile place to obtain records and access and, frankly, a history of executive and legislative leaders who have been fairly hostile, either through their attorney general or corporation counsels or the bureaucracy itself."
Portnoy understands the desire among some people to see Obama's birth records, but he does not put their requests in the same category as seeking openness to government dealings, such as details of public works projects or private meetings among officials to decide who will chair city councils, commissions and boards.
"That's the people's business," Portnoy said. "We've never brought an action to get somebody's Social Security number and there are legitimate reasons to keep birth records private. Identity theft is a legitimate, serious issue."
The majority of the people who e-mail or send letters to Okubo asking for Obama's birth certificate do not challenge her response once she tells them they have no legal right to the information, she said.
But about a dozen people continue to hammer Okubo with follow-up requests.
"They want all of the organizational charts for our Office of Health Status Monitoring that handles vital records and for our health informations systems, our IT office," Okubo said. "They request from me every single communication or every single document or request every record available related to President Obama's vital records."
Okubo readily acknowledges that she hasn't always been able to reply to a request within 10 working days as required under Hawai'i's Uniform Information Practices Act, the state's version of the federal Freedom of Information Act.
But she adamantly disagrees with the "birthers' " interpretation of Hawai'i law.
"They usually say that by not giving out his birth certificate we're breaking the law," Okubo said.
"But we would be breaking the law by giving out a birth certificate to someone who does not have a right to it."
When Okubo told one writer they did not have a right to Obama's birth certificate because they were not related to the president, the person wrote back saying they, indeed, had a common ancestor.
"They said they have a tangible right to his birth certificate because they're descended from Adam," Okubo said, referring to the biblical figure. "We told them they need to provide some type of legal documentation."