An arcane bill that might reach the U.S. Senate floor this week has garnered little attention outside of Hawaii, but if it passes it could do more to ruin race and ethnic relations in this country than anything since “separate but equal.”
Known as the Akaka bill, named after Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, it would create a parallel government for the 20 percent of Hawaii’s population that is believed to be Native Hawaiians. “Believed to be” is the key phrase because, as a Wall Street Journal editorial explains, it’s unclear what measure of Hawaiian blood would qualify under the legislation.
The legislation is open-ended and unclear. It would create a commission to a) decide who qualifies as a Native Hawaiian; and b) determine criteria for electing candidates to the governing council. On the table would be millions of acres of federal and state land that could be transferred to this new governing council.
Constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, writing in the Washington Times, says supporters have so far refused to accept amendments that would bar discrimination, secession or the eviction of the U.S. military or that would uphold the Bill of Rights or democratic government in the new Native Hawaiian government.
And, under the Akaka bill, “next-door neighbors would suddenly coexist under different legal regimes,” the Wall St. Journal pointed out.
Supporters, including Republican Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, argue that past discrimination against native Hawaiians has been so corrosive they need to be self-governing, much in the way Native Americans have separate tribal governments.
Dick Rowland, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, and one of the leading opponents of the measure, said his organization’s polling found two-thirds of Hawaii residents opposed to it, with 48 percent of those describing themselves as Native Hawaiians also opposed. Rowland argues that if this bill passes — it’s still bottled up by its opponents — it could set a precedent for other ethnic minorities seeking their own separate government in other parts of the country.
Ethnic- and race-based policies promote division and strife, whether we’re talking about Old South-style racism or modern preferences and quotas. Legal and political processes that treat Americans as members of groups rather than as individuals make the American ideal of e pluribus unum — out of many, one — ever harder to achieve.