The House and Senate are wrapping up work on the last appropriations bill of the year and rumors are swirling that the controversial Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, also known as the “Akaka Bill,” will be included in the Defense Appropriations bill. The defense measure is proving to be controversial, because House and Senate appropriators are using it to carry non related matters like a $1.9 trillion debt limit increase, an extension of unemployment benefits and the Native Hawaiian measure.
The Native Hawaiian bill, a long time priority of Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), would set up a race based government of “indigenous, native people of Hawaii.” Opponents argue that this bill is unconstitutional and unwise. National Review Online sounded the alarm bells today and sources on Capitol Hill confirmed to Big Government that a version of the Native Hawaiian Bill may end up in the Defense Appropriations bill.
According to NROnline:
The Hill rumor is that Democrats plan to attach Akaka to the Department of Defense funding bill before this session ends — basically, sneaking it in at a busy, contentious time of year to avoid full debate.
The bill would create a race based government to solicit federal monies and create programs to benefit individuals who fit the definition of “Native Hawaiian.” A United States Office for Native Hawaiian Relations would be created to negotiate a special political and legal relationship between Native Hawaiians and the United States. The supporters of this bill argue that Native Hawaiians are similar to an Indian tribe and they should be declared a sovereign entity so they can negotiate benefits from the U.S. government. The fact of the matter is that Hawaii was a kingdom with a monarch before becoming a state, unlike American Indian Tribes. Furthermore, the Tribes recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are not racially exclusive and the Native Hawaiian government would be race based.
Many in Hawaii are concerned that they would be unconstitutionally excluded from the new governing entity, because they will not racially qualify to participate. The Supreme Court case, Rice v. Cayetano (2000), declared unconstitutional a state sponsored vote in Hawaii, limited to individuals who could prove Native Hawaiian decent, to a board overseeing Native Hawaiian issues. There was a strict racial classification and an individual who was deemed not racially eligible to vote challenged the constitutionality of the vote under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. He won. Many of the same constitutional concerns apply to the Akaka Bill and a court may deem this bill unconstitutional when there is a determination of the qualifications to participate in the new Native Hawaiian Government.
Many Native Hawaiians have lost faith in the governing entity, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), to represent the will of Native Hawaiians. OHA will become the defacto governing entity of Native Hawaiians and they seem more interested in lobbying for more and more federal money as the solution to all of the problems in the Native Hawaiian community. Some Native Hawaiians don’t want federal monies, because they don’t want to give far away Washington, D.C. more and more control over lands in Hawaii. There are Hawaiians who object on the grounds that they would be racially excluded from the new governing entity, even though they have lived their whole lives in Hawaii.
This is yet another example of politicians in Washington, D.C. trying to pull a fast one. For those who have a distaste for big government, like me, this is yet further evidence that politicians are pushing unpopular and potentially unconstitutional ideas in the hope that you are not paying attention.
Late today, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, released the following statement:
I have never suggested that the Akaka Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill be passed and adopted as part of the defense appropriations process. I don’t know where this nonsensical suggestion originated. The Akaka Bill for the past many years has been considered under what we call the regular order. It has had hours upon hours of hearings, many, many revisions and amendments and has gone through the scrutiny of three administrations. We have had hearings in Washington and in Hawaii. It is not a measure that has been shepherded in the dark of the night. It has been fully transparent.
Transparency and pressure may have backed off the supporters of this bill, yet one should not be confident that some version of the Native Hawaiian Bill will be put into the Defense Appropriations Bill until they read the bill.