Why We Don’t Need The Akaka Bill

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - April 18, 2007
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Most of us here in Hawaii have encountered the curious Mainlander who goes ga-ga when we reveal that we live in Hawaii.

“Hey man, what’s it like to live in Paradise?”

I usually reply, “Living in Hawaii seems to encompass all the intrigue, surprise and richness of living in a foreign country, but with none of the inconveniences of a foreign tongue, funny money or weird food. The blend of various races results in a smooth melange of social graces. Aloha Fridays and first birthday luaus, pau hana beer, pidgin English, slippahs and rainbows tend to smooth the hard edges of Western culture. And the Aloha Spirit, it’s really tangible; it’s in the tropical air!”


I have felt this way about Hawaii since I first stepped off the plane 32 years ago. My family and I looked down on the beach from the window in our room at the Moana and shared in the color and excitement of one of the biggest outrigger canoe regattas of the year. We knew instantly that this was a special place.

As a squadron commander living on base at Barbers Point with my family, we frequented the beaches of the Waianae Coast, made friends easily with families in Nanakuli, appreciated barefoot Hawaiian weddings at Makua Beach, learned the ways of the imu, kalua pig and poi, haku lei and puka shells, slack key and spontaneous hula. We embraced our local friends at squadron “open houses,” change-of-command ceremonies and beach parties. We developed a deep understanding of Hawaiian history and culture. Ultimately, we built our home at Maili, bought laulaus and poke at Tamura’s, and supported the Waianae Coast Health Center.

I love Hawaii and its differences from the U.S. mainland. And I love Hawaiians who embrace the code of Aloha and have taught it to me.

I support the Hawaiian Home Lands program because it helps Hawaiians stay connected to the land and their heritage, but I’m also saddened that - until now - it has been so badly mismanaged, even under a Hawaiian governor. Although I disagree with OHA’s spending priorities, I support income to OHA from ceded lands because that’s what was agreed upon decades ago, and I think it’s fair. I support the admissions policy of Kamehameha Schools because as a private entity receiving no government funding I believe it has the right to choose its own policies.


But I do not support the Akaka Bill, and here are the reasons why.

* With but a few exceptions, by every objective measure the Hawaiian race and culture is thriving like never before - in music, dance, the arts and the language. Politically, there have never been more legislators, judges and community leaders with Hawaiian blood than now. Economically, average income for Hawaiian families has never been higher, and in some cases exceeds that of other races, even Caucasians. Those achieving the greatest economic success have assimilated - and look forward. Those with the least success have remained separate - and look backward. Hawaiians deserving government economic assistance can always receive it on the basis of need, just as those of other races. In short, the Akaka Bill is unnecessary.

* The Akaka Bill will divide the people of Hawaii into different classes of citizens - Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians - and this at a time when we need to be united as never before both to solve our local problems and to maintain our collective national security. Since Akaka models his proposal on the Native American political entity, we can expect the same excesses that have already occurred with them: immunity from state and local taxes, immunity from established law enforcement, immunity from zoning and environmental laws, immunity from political campaign contribution limits. This is actually happening on the Mainland today.


* Over-reaching claims of ownership of public resources as exemplified by OHA’s Clyde Namu’o, who recently claimed that all of Hawaii’s well water originated as surface water, which is a state “public trust resource” subject to Native Hawaiians’ traditional fishing and gathering rights, and therefore OHA owns most of Hawaii’s fresh water - ownership which could pass to a “sovereign Hawaiian government” if the Akaka Bill passes.

And this is just the beginning. I oppose the Akaka Bill precisely because I love Hawaii and the Hawaiian people. Without the equality, trust, mutual respect and appreciation within our existing system - which manages to stay above race most of the time - I truly fear Aloha will die!

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