Current Status of the Akaka Bill, Mid-November 2005
Stealth Tactics Ahead?
As of Veterans Day 2005, the Akaka bill appears to be in limbo. But appearances can be deceiving. This is a very dangerous time. The Honolulu Advertiser of November 12 reports that Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawai'i, accompanied by at least four trustees of the state government Office of Hawaiian Affairs, will be going to Washington D.C. on November 17 to lobby Republican leaders of the House of Representatives. Something is happening. The question is: what?
First a quick review of the bill's recent history. Then some speculation on what could happen in the next few weeks.
On March 11 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved the Akaka bill (S.147) with an amendment regarding tribal gambling, and sent it to the floor. Since then there has been loud noise but no action. Several Republican Senators blocked the bill for various reasons, and Hurricane Katrina blew Senator Akaka's cloture petition off the calendar. In the House of Representatives the bill (H.R.309) has not yet had a hearing in the Resources Committee (which has jurisdiction over Indian legislation). For a detailed history of the Akaka bill during all of 2005 see: History of the Hawaiian Government Reorganization bill in the 109th Congress.
On November 12 the Honolulu Advertiser reported that Governor Lingle, accompanied by probably four OHA trustees, will be in Washington on November 17 to lobby the House Resources Committee chairman and the House Republican leadership. http://honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051112/NEWS23/511120338/1001
The Advertiser also reported that there is still "hope" the Senate will pass the bill, perhaps through a cloture petition, perhaps at the time the Governor is in Washington; and there is also a chance the bill could then pass the House before the end of this year. The Advertiser article says that a bill must pass both chambers during the same calendar year (session) in order to be enacted -- a statement which is probably false (ask your Congressman!). The 109th Congress continues with a second session through the end of 2006, and bills do carry over. But bill supporters are trying to drum up a sense of urgency.
Legislators at both the state and federal level greatly love the pressure of time at the end of a session. That's when hastily scheduled events move faster than the speed of news, lettimg them pull outrageous shenanigans hidden from public view.
Let's see if we can envision the scenario our politicians might be dreaming of: (1) a cloture vote in the Senate for a bill whose contents will have just been changed with no time for substantial debate; or else inserting the Akaka bill hidden inside another "must-pass" bill; (2) passage in the House by unanimous consent under suspension of the rules on the calendar of non-controversial legislation when hardly anybody is present.
Senator Akaka announced in early September that he had reached agreement with the Department of Justice on changes to the bill to satisfy DOJ objections. Isn't it interesting that Governor Lingle and our Legislature were trying hard to pass the bill without these changes, before DOJ stepped in? Our local politicians have no interest in protecting us against the bad consequences of the Akaka bill -- just give that 20% swing vote (ethnic Hawaiians viewed monolithically) whatever they want!
A few days after both our Senators and both Representatives loudly proclaimed the new bill language had resolved DOJ objections, DOJ issued a public statement in which they not only failed to endorse the new language, but clearly said there are still important objections. None of these efforts by outsiders to protect us against our own politicians could have happened if the bill were being rushed through under end-of-session time pressure.
Akaka posted the new "negotiated" version of his bill on his official Senate website, purporting to be the bill agreed to by DOJ. He posted it in an encrypted format making it impossible to copy and paste the contents for discussion; but a friend of mine was able to decrypt it. This Akaka trial balloon can be seen (and copied!) here: Akaka Trial Balloon
But now, eight weeks after Akaka posted his alleged new bill on his website, he has not yet formally introduced it in the Senate! Why is he waiting? Especially when he complains time is running out!
Remember the attempted cloture petition? It would be oh so clever to formally introduce a revised Akaka bill (perhaps with language nobody has yet seen) at the same time as a cloture petition; perhaps around November 15 when Hawai'i politicians are there to lobby for it. That way there would be no time for opponents to analyze the bill before it comes up for a vote, and almost no time for additional (hostile) amendments to be considered under the restrictive rules governing debate after cloture has been invoked.
If cloture fails or time is too short, then the bill might still get through the Senate (and be veto-proof) by including it inside a different bill important to our nation.
For example, on December 15 2000 -- the last day of the 106th Congress -- an eagle-eyed Senate staffer discovered that Senator Inouye had hidden the Akaka bill by reference (as a single sentence naming it) deep inside an enormous appropriations bill which had actually passed; and it was then necessary for both the House and Senate to immediately pass a special resolution to remove the Akaka bill. See: http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/ExtremeFinalStealth2000.html
In December 2001, the Akaka bill was again hidden inside another huge bill in the form of a single sentence, in the hope that it might slip through without anyone noticing. Here is that sentence, buried in section 8,132 of the massive Defense Appropriations bill HR.3338:
"SEC. 8132. The provisions of S. 746 of the 107th Congress, as reported to the Senate on September 21, 2001, are hereby enacted into law."
Inouye's repeated sneak attack on the people of Hawai'i blew up in the Senate on December 7, 2001, exactly 60 years after "a day that shall live in infamy." Republicans stopped the Senate dead in its tracks for ten minutes and took Senator Inouye to the woodshed (cloakroom), after which he came back on the Senate floor to withdraw the offending sentence. See: http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/AkakaStealth2001.html
If the bill somehow manages to get through the Senate this year, there is a fast way to push it through the House before anybody has time to notice.
The only time the Akaka bill ever passed either chamber of Congress was September 26, 2000. It passed on a voice vote by unanimous consent under suspension of the rules on the calendar of non-controversial legislation at dinner time when only about ten people were present (I watched it live on C-SPAN). All the other bills being passed at the same time were truly non-controversial, such as the transfer of a small parcel of land to the Gettysburg National Park. For details about what happened then, see: http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/HouseStealth2000.html
Of course, such skullduggery requires the cooperation of at least one Republican co-conspirator (since they are in the majority) who has sufficient power to control the floor of the House for a few minutes without anyone objecting.
So, perhaps now we know why Governor Lingle and several OHA trustees are going to Washington to lobby the House Republican leadership.
Let's hope those House Republican leaders have seen the testimony on the Akaka bill's unconstitutionality presented to their own House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, on July 19, 2005. See: http://www.angelfire.com/hi5/bigfiles3/AkakaHearingHouseJudiciary071905.html
Once we get past Christmas, nobody will be able to claim time is running out. Year 2006 stretches ahead of us. As it happens, November 7 2006 is election day -- a perfect opportunity for Hawai'i politicians to finally allow us to vote on whether we want the Akaka bill. They previously let us vote on whether to legalize same-sex marriage. Why not let us vote on whether to legalize apartheid? And when the election is over, there will be more time remaining in 2006 than there is now in 2005, for Congress to finally vote the Akaka bill up or down with full and accurate knowledge of what Hawai'i's people want.