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Not only is the Akaka bill likely dead this year, but its chances of passing in the new Congress are even grimmer. Could the bill’s demise spell trouble for Sen. Daniel Akaka‘s re-election in 2012, too?
Take it from Hawaii’s most powerful politician that the Akaka Bill is in trouble.
“I would say as a result of yesterday the odds are bad,” Inouye told KGMB. “I’m being very candid and upfront because I don’t want people to have their hopes unjustifiably raised because at this stage I would say it’s not one of the so-called priority measures.”
“I think it’s as good as dead,” outgoing U.S. Rep. Charles Djou told the Associated Press this week. “We had a situation where the president of the United States said he would sign the Akaka bill and the Democrats held overwhelming majorities in both chambers, and Sen. Akaka wasn’t able to get it through.”
Those comments — from Inouye the Democrat and Djou the Republican — come on the heels of a Republican landslide that reversed a Democratic majority in the U.S. House and tightened the gap on the Democratic hold of the Senate.
Last week’s midterm election saw the GOP pick up at least 60 seats in the House to claim the majority, 239-187. Democrats will hold a slim majority in the Senate come January — 51-46 with two independents (Republican Lisa Murkowski’s Alaska seat awaits a full ballot count.)
By 2012, there could be a Republican president. More Senate Democrats than Republicans are also up for re-election that year.
One of them is Dan Akaka.
If Akaka’s signature piece of legislation is dead in its tracks — after 10 years of attempts to get it passed — how will it impact the senator’s political future?
When Ed Case challenged Akaka in 2006, he questioned the senator’s effectiveness and suggested Hawaii needed to consider how the state will shift when Akaka and Inouye, both 86, eventually leave office.
Lingle has already expressed her interest in running against Akaka in 2012. Case is a possible candidate, too, as is Mufi Hannemann — though likely only if Akaka decides not to seek re-election.
Akaka has indicated he will seek a fourth term. But he may do so lacking what would be the biggest accomplishment of his entire career.
Even with Democrats current 57-41 majority — with the two independents caucusing with Democrats — Sen. Daniel Akaka isn’t exactly gung ho that the bill he penned will be approved during the lame-duck session.
When Civil Beat asked Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke if the Senator felt confident the bill — aka the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 — would pass, Van Dyke replied, “I wouldn’t say confident, I would just say optimistic.”
Van Dyke said that Akaka had met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prior to last week’s election to express Akaka’s desire to get the bill to the Senate floor.
The Akaka bill has been already been passed by the House and only needs an up or down vote in the Senate to decide its fate. If passed, it would create a process for Native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition similar to Native American and Native Alaskan tribes.
The problem is, the lame-duck session in Congress, which begins Nov. 15, is full of issues that are of far greater interest to most lawmakers than federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.
They include passing legislation to keep government operating, deciding whether to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts (even for the richest), deliberating of the START treaty with Russia on nuclear weapons and halting cuts in Medicare reimbursement for doctors.
While Majority Leader Reid had envisioned the lame-duck session as the last chance for Democrats to take advantage of their superior numbers, the mood of the country has changed. In addition to the U.S. House, a majority of governorships and state legislatures are also controlled by Republicans.
In many ways, 2010 may have been the last, best hope for the Akaka bill — the year “all the stars were aligned.” It had the support of the Hawaii-born U.S. president, a bi-partisan congressional delegation, the Republican governor and her attorney general and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Come Jan. 3, Senate Democrats will have even fewer votes to work with to get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and prevent a Republican filibuster on the bill. Many Republicans have already said the think the Akaka bill is race-based and thus unconstitutional.
If the Akaka bill should somehow pass the Senate and yet be amended, it would have to return to the House. But the congressman who shepherded who the bill through that chamber several times — even under Republican majorities — Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii’s new governor-elect, will be in Washington Place, not Washington, D.C.