Do Republicans actually stand for anything? I wonder sometimes, especially when GOP lawmakers make appeals to traditionally Democratic voters by trying to out-pander the Democrats. A handful of Senate Republicans are set to do so when Congress comes back after Labor Day and takes up a bizarre bill that could not only give the imprimatur to odious racial classifications but set the stage for secession for one state: Hawaii. The bill, S. 147, has been bottled up for months, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who has valiantly fought the legislation for years without much help from his fellow Republicans. The legislation would grant so-called native Hawaiians status akin to that of American Indian tribes, including a measure of self-government.
Hawaii became a state in 1959. At the time, Americans were firmly committed to the idea of the Melting Pot. There was broad consensus that Hawaii's multi-racial population -- which included the descendants of Europeans, Asians, and the Polynesian inhabitants who came to islands from the South Pacific -- would be treated the same. Intermarriage among the various ethnic groups living on the island was widespread, and there was no effort to treat native Hawaiians as a separate racial group, much less a tribe. But nearly 50 years later, multiculturalism and racial preferences have permeated American society, and the push is now on to grant special status to some of Hawaii's citizens, depending on their racial lineage.
The legislation defines as "Native Hawaiian" anyone who is one of the "indigenous, native people of Hawaii," and who is a "direct lineal descendant of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people" who resided in the Hawaiian Islands before Jan. 1, 1893, when the United States took possession of the island from the reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. The definition is simply a racial classification of the kind normally suspect under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its purpose is to define members of a group who would be given special status -- including the right to self-government. The bill even empowers the new entity established by Native Hawaiians to "negotiate" with the existing state and federal governments over lands and natural resources, civil and criminal jurisdiction, and the "delegation of governmental powers" from the United States and the state of Hawaii to the new governing entity.
Is it too far-fetched to imagine some enterprising group of "Native Hawaiians" deciding to demand all waterfront property be turned over to the new "tribe," or perhaps just to demand that existing owners pay a new tax to the new governing entity for the privilege of keeping their property? Perhaps the group would demand that those not of "native" status simply leave the islands altogether. Unimaginable? Perhaps not. A group of irredentists in Arizona once tried to get legislation passed that would have barred anyone whose ancestors were not living in Arizona at the time of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war between the United States and Mexico in 1848, from living in most areas of the state.
But rather than fight similar mischief, a number of Republicans appear ready to jump on the Native Hawaiian bandwagon. The bill's chief sponsor is Sen. Daniel Akaka, who has tried to get the legislation through Congress for several years. In the past, he's been given a boost by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who has also pushed for legislation to make Puerto Rico a state, but most mainstream Republicans have steered clear. Not so of late. Now Stevens is joined by his Alaska colleague Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Norm Coleman (MN) and Gordon Smith (OR). In addition, Ben Ginsburg, former general counsel of the Republican National Committee, is one of the chief lobbyists for the bill.
Let's hope their fellow Republicans -- as well as sensible Democrats -- see the folly in this legislation.