BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, on Thursday denied accusations from well-placed Capitol sources that the powerful appropriations chair is working to “jam through” the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act by the end of the year by attaching the controversial measure to an a omnibus spending bill that his staff is writing in secret.
The “Akaka Bill”, named for U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, creates a native Hawaiian sovereign government within the state. The accusations about Inouye’s plan, which would surmount to forcing his colleagues to either vote for the porked-up omnibus bill with no public comment, debate, or amendment, or reject the whole bill and deny the government the funding it needs to operate, were highlighted in part in a National Review column on Thursday.
Peter Boylan, media spokesperson for Hawaii’s senior senator, says he doesn’t know where the National Review information came from, because no sources were named. But Boylan maintains that as one of Inouye’s staff, he does not know of such a plan and has heard nothing to indicate that it is true.
In 2009, a group of native Hawaiian activists opposed to the proposed Act accused Inouye of planning to hide the legislation in a defense appropriations bill.
At the time, Inouye told The Honolulu Advertiser “I have never suggested that the Akaka bill be passed and adopted as part of the defense appropriations process. I don’t know where this nonsensical suggestion originated.”
Boylan told Hawaii Reporter that as far as he knows, Inouye is remaining consistent on his pledge not to hide the legislation in an appropriations bill.
The legislation, which was opposed by President George W. Bush and his Justice Department, but is supported by President Barack Obama, a former Hawaii resident, is fiercely debated among native Hawaiian groups and in political circles.
Native Hawaiian activists who are against the bill say they don’t want the federal government to have authority over them. They believe the Hawaiian government was illegally overthrown in the late 1800s and don’t recognize the state and federal government as authorities. They want Hawaii to revert to a sovereign government.
Conservatives and libertarians who strongly oppose the Akaka Bill believe the legislation is racially divisive, unconstitutional, and problematic on a several levels. The U.S. Civil Rights commission condemned the bill. The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and in Hawaii, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, along with many others public policy institute, have expressed strong concerns over the measure.
Pushing for the bill are all four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, Hawaii’s Republican governor and lieutenant governor, elected officers of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and their supporters. The majority of Hawaii lawmakers also back the legislation.
Congress has taken up the Akaka Bill more than a half a dozen times since 2000, the year the Akaka Bill was introduced. While it passed the House twice, the Senate never voted on the measure. Critics point out that the bill language has been changed many times since it was introduced, all in private negotiations behind closed doors; that there have been no hearings on the current language of the bill; and there have been no public forums on this new bill in Hawaii.
Democrats and other Akaka bill advocates are concerned they won’t get the votes they need in the House and Senate when the newly-elected Congress is sworn in this coming January, and have pushed for more than a decade-old legislation to pass before 2011.