What's the impetus behind this retrograde bill? Pots of money. The state of Hawaii established an Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 1978 and gave it funding from the huge income from federal lands, the so-called Ceded Lands, granted to Hawaii when statehood was approved in 1959. OHA officials were chosen in elections limited to Native Hawaiians. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rice v. Cayetano that this violated the 15th Amendment's ban on racial discrimination in voting.
The asserted purpose of the Akaka bill's discrimination is to aid a disadvantaged ethnic group. In the 1990s, an OHA official told me that Native Hawaiians had the lowest education and income levels of any ethnic group in Hawaii "except, of course, the Filipinos." (Which leads me to wonder: Should we have a Filipino Government Reorganization Act?)
The actual purpose is to turn over to this racially defined governmental entity the Ceded Lands and the income therefrom: many millions of dollars. Perhaps disadvantaged individuals who get certified as having the requisite percentage of Native Hawaiian ancestry will get some benefit. But there's reason to bet that much of the moolah will go to well-connected lawyers, accountants, project managers and investment advisers.
What I find most dismaying about this Native Hawaiian bill is the contrast between Hawaii's traditional openness and tolerance and the bill's attempt to separate Hawaiians-Americans by race. Hawaii, as Sen. Daniel Inouye stated in 1994, is "one of the greatest examples of a multiethnic society living in relative peace." Quite so.
Inouye was one of the Hawaiian politicians who worked for statehood in the 1950s. Then, their chief opponents were Southern Democrats who feared the example of a multiethnic, multiracial society in which whites were in the minority and racial segregation was taboo.
The Hawaii in which Barack Obama was born in 1961 justified those fears. Despite some tensions, which Obama mentions in his autobiography, it was a sterling example of tolerance and togetherness not just to the United States but to the whole world.
The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act would put Hawaii on a road headed in the other direction. The Democratic health care bills threaten one-sixth of the nation's economy. The Akaka bill threatens something even more precious, the progress we have made as a nation toward racial equality.