With most of the nation distracted by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the first Supreme Court confirmation hearings in nearly a decade, the Senate may quietly approve a bill to recognize native Hawaiians as a new Indian tribe and establish a separate governing authority for people of their race within Hawaii.
“This is the worst bill you’ve never heard of,” said John Fund, political analyst for the Wall Street Journal, speaking at the Heritage Foundation August 30.
The bill would create an open-ended negotiation process between a proposed native-Hawaiian governing entity and the federal and state governments. The process could ultimately give this entity the powers of taxation and law enforcement, hundreds of thousands of acres of Hawaiian land and the right to discriminate based on race. Members of the tribe would be enrolled based on race, and the tribe’s governing entity could become immune from civil rights laws, much like American Indian tribal authorities, which are permitted to establish state religions and discriminate based on race and sex.
Among other things, the bill would allow the Kamehameha Schools—public schools that discriminate in their admissions in favor of racial Native Hawaiians—to continue discriminating, despite an August 2 ruling against the practice by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D.-Hawaii) even said in an NPR interview that his bill may lead to Hawaiian independence, although he later clarified he does not personally support independence. The state of Hawaii’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) talks about secession as a possibility on its website, promoting as options “total independence” or “nationhood with marginal connections to the legal and territorial limits of the United States.”
In promoting the Akaka bill, OHA has spent $780,000 in taxpayer dollars hiring top Washington lobbyists. Benjamin Ginsberg, a former Bush-Cheney 2004 lawyer, is lobbying Senate Republicans and the White House for OHA.
The Akaka bill may pass the Senate, Senate sources tell HUMAN EVENTS. It has more than the 50 votes needed to pass, and it may even have the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. It has five Republican co-sponsors, including both Alaska senators, Sen. Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.), Sen. Gordon Smith (R.-Ore.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.).
The support of Alaskan Senators Ted Stevens (R.) and Lisa Murkowski (R.) is part of a deal whereby Hawaii’s senators vote together with Alaska’s on matters pertaining to the two states—including ANWR drilling, for example. Senators Graham and Smith did not return calls requesting comment on why they are co-sponsoring the bill. A Senate aide told HUMAN EVENTS Coleman signed on in response to a personal appeal from moderate Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R.).
Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), who in 1993 voted against a non-binding resolution apologizing for the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, helped Akaka move the bill through the Indian Affairs Committee in March.
On Tuesday, the Senate will take a cloture vote on whether to allow debate on the measure. Opponents, led by Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.), plan to propose three hostile floor amendments that could gut the bill, a Republican Senate staffer said. One would bar the Native Hawaiian governing entity from discriminating based on race, while a second would prevent racial discrimination in enrolling members of the Hawaiian “tribe.” Both of these amendments will receive votes no matter what.
For parliamentary reasons, a third amendment, requiring a statewide referendum on the bill in Hawaii, will not receive a floor vote if cloture is invoked on the final bill. A July survey of 41,000 Hawaiians found that more than two-thirds oppose the bill. Among racial Native Hawaiians, who comprise just above 20% of the state’s population, support is at about 50%.
A Senate source also said that opponents may try to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee, where it could languish indefinitely or even die.