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Associated Press: Native Hawaiians bill could pass in 2009

December 8, 2008

Associated Press Writer

Honoluulu (AP) - The political stars for long-stalled efforts to boost the status of Native Hawaiians appear to be aligning nicely.

With Barack Obama set to take over the White House and Democrats ready to claim larger majorities in Congress next month, legislation to create a governmental entity to represent Native Hawaiians could finally win passage.

"I am optimistic about working with President-elect Obama, who supports federal recognition and understands Hawaii's unique history," U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the bill's main's sponsor, told The Honolulu Advertiser. Critics agree that the Akaka bill has a better chance of passage next year after being opposed by most Senate Republicans and the Bush Administration in recent attempts to get it through Congress.

But they insist that if it gets far in Congress next year, a furious reaction from conservatives and other critics will force Democratic leaders and the new Obama administration to hesitate about pursuing its approval.

"Why would the national leaders like (Senate Democratic leader Harry) Reid (of Nevada) or Obama be willing to spend three days, a week, whatever it will take, to get through this," asked Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

This year's version of the measure would set up a process for Native Hawaiians to participate in the creation of a permanent entity similar to Native American tribal

That entity would be empowered to represent the interests of Native Hawaiians and negotiate on their behalf with local, state and federal officials.

The legislation would bar establishment of a reservation or gambling operations. It also would ban the taking of private property and exempt the Defense Department from its provisions.

The bill was passed by a Senate committee in 2007, but when the Bush Administration made clear the measure would be vetoed, Reid shelved it.

November's elections, however, changed the political dynamics in Washington. For one, Obama during his campaign committed himself to support Akaka's bill as president.

Akaka is expected to reintroduce the measure again next year in the Senate, though it may be months before it moves very far in a Congress confronting difficult economic and military issues.

The House may not be much of a problem, said Hawaii Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who will reintroduce the bill there. The House passed previous versions in 2000 and 2007.

A dozen Senate Republicans and most Democrats backed the measure in an unsuccessful 2006 vote to get it onto the Senate floor. At least four of those Republicans will not be in office next year.

Still, Abercrombie told The Advertiser that "some of the barriers that have been put up in the Senate can be overcome this time."

But Gaziano said in an interview that if the bill appears on track for passage in the Senate, critics will gear up to force a delay. While it is strongly supported in Hawaii, it is not a hot-button nationwide, he contended.

"It would be different if this were a major priority of Obama's," such as health care reform, Gaziano added.

"I could tick off 10 more important issues. This is one that fits a different category," he said. "It will be intensely opposed, at least by a minority, but it doesn't really do a lot for the broad-based liberal constituency or for a number of Americans."

But Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said there are influential interests supporting the measure, too, such as the American Bar Association.

"Rush Limbaugh might go ahead and oppose it again," Broder Van Dyke said. "But he opposes a lot of good things up here."

Broder Van Dyke said Akaka will settle on the precise version of the bill to pursue next year after meeting with fellow Hawaii delegation members.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.


Year: [2008] , 2007 , 2006

December 2008

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