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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

Case, Djou oppose Akaka bill changes

By Derrick DePledge

Former congressman Ed Case said last night that he disagrees with changes to a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill pending before Congress and would like to see the issue brought back to Hawai'i for another discussion.

Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou also said he opposes the current version of the bill, which would give Hawaiians inherent power to govern prior to, instead of after, negotiations with the state and federal governments. State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa supported the bill, arguing that it grants Hawaiians the same sovereign authority as American Indians and Native Alaskans.

The three rivals in the May special election for Congress appeared last night on "Insights" on PBS Hawai'i, a live, one-hour panel discussion hosted by Honolulu Star-Bulletin political writer Richard Borreca.

The Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill, known as the Akaka bill for its main sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, is awaiting a vote in the Senate. The bill had the broad endorsement of Hawai'i's political leaders, but recent changes negotiated with the Obama administration have led Gov. Linda Lingle and others to reluctantly withdraw their support.

Case, a Democrat who backed previous versions of the Akaka bill, said he regrets that the bill no longer has what he described as a "pretty deliberate process for trying to work out the kinks and the details and the exact manner in which implementation would occur."

Case also said he would prefer another debate on the bill in Hawai'i. Local hearings have not been held in the Islands for a decade, when the bill was first introduced in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Rice v. Cayetano, which held that Hawaiians-only elections for trustees of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs were unconstitutional.

Many opponents, including conservative Republicans who have fought the Akaka bill in Congress, have criticized the lack of local hearings and believe the issue should go before Hawai'i voters.

"I think at this point it's time for us, if the opportunity arises, to bring it back to Hawai'i and talk about it again in a broader context," Case said.

Djou, a Republican, said Hawaiians should have similar rights as other indigenous people but only after negotiations with the state and federal governments.

"We all should remember, that whatever the United States Congress (does), we have to be fair to everyone," he said.

Hanabusa, a Democrat, said the current version of the Akaka bill is part of the reconcilation process since the 1993 apology resolution, where the United States apologized for its role in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i in 1893.

"For the first time, Native Hawaiians were being recognized as having the similar rights as indigenous people elsewhere," she said.

The panel discussion was much more free-flowing than recent debates, and the candidates took the opportunity to explain their differences, using some of the strongest language of the campaign in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District.

Hanabusa defended the Jones Act, the federal law that protects the nation's shipping industry from foreign competition, as important to national security and Hawai'i's ability to obtain goods from the Mainland.

She said she doubted the law has led to substantially higher consumer prices. "It doesn't increase it to that wide of an extent, and you must balance that with security that you're entitled to the knowing that what's going on between the states is governed by an American-flagged, American-owned vessel, versus what it's costing," she said.

Case said he could not

understand why Hanabusa thinks the law does not drive up business and consumer costs.

"There is no reason whatsoever why our government federal or state should create an artificial monopoly," he said of the shipping domination by Matson Navigation Co. and Horizon Lines Inc. "I believe in the free market. I believe in the open market. And I believe that if properly regulated, it can deliver best to consumers at the best possible price, the best possible efficiency, the product that they want and need."

Djou also believes in the free-market approach and, like Case, would support a Hawai'i exemption to the law. He said the law may make more sense on the Mainland, where there is competition in shipping because businesses can also choose to transport goods between states by rail.

"And because we're not getting competition here, I do think it hurts the people of Hawai'i as whole," he said.

The candidates are also divided on civil unions. Case and Hanabusa support giving same-sex couples the ability to have their relationships legally recognized by the state, while Djou opposes the idea.

Hanabusa said a bill that is stalled before the state Legislature would be a landmark because it would apply to both same-sex and heterosexual couples.

Djou said he believes Hawai'i voters decided the issue in 1998 when they gave the Legislature the power to define marriage as between a man and a woman. "I believe the people of Hawai'i have spoken very clearly in favor of traditional marriage," he said.