State senator breaks local ranks to oppose Akaka bill

Native Hawaiians opposed to the now-stalled Akaka bill have found an unlikely ally in state Sen. Sam Slom, a Republican who broke political ranks and traveled on his own nickel to Washington, D.C., last week to lobby the U.S. Senate against a cloture vote on the measure.

But unlike Hui Pu and other groups that came out against the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act because they see it as quashing their drive to reestablish Hawai’i as an independent nation, Slom (pictured) is motivated by different concerns.

‘It’s all about having a full and open discussion, a public referendum and plebiscite here in Hawai’i,’ says Slom, who represents the 8th Senate District and is president of Small Business Hawaii.

Slom was the only official from Hawai’i to lobby against last week’s failed cloture vote, which would have forced the Senate to decide whether it would take up the measure. As Slom made the rounds of Republican senators and their staff, he found himself working against political heavy hitters like Gov. Linda Lingle, state Attorney General Mark Bennett, former Gov. John Waihee, former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein, Congressional candidate Quentin Kawananakoa and trustees from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, who visited the nation’s capitol last week to support the bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka.

But while Slom’s stance on the bill has left him politically isolated–he also cast the sole ‘no’ vote when the state Legislature last year passed a resolution endorsing the Akaka bill –he isn’t alone in his call for local hearings on the controversial legislation.

Native Hawaiians who say that Lingle, OHA trustees and other elected officials have no authority to speak for them have long pressed for statewide hearings on the bill–a call that has gone unheeded in recent years even as the measure has been altered to address concerns about gambling, land use and taxation.

Slom contends he doesn’t ‘want any diminution of rights for Hawaiians or anyone else, but there are still too many questions about how this bill was crafted and why it hasn’t progressed in seven years. Why is it the only way to achieve Native Hawaiian rights?’

Although Hawai’i does not permit a statewide referendum, Slom says that doesn’t preclude holding hearings on the bill on all the islands or conducting independent polls to assess public opinion on the issue.

As he sees it, there’s only one reason why the measure hasn’t been given a more thorough airing locally. ‘Anyone who talks to native Hawaiian people knows there are differences of opinion. Why debate it and be embarrassed to show you don’t have the support you say you do?’

Slom also questions ‘the timing this go-round. It seems like it was more of ‘let’s get Akaka re-elected over [Democractic challenger] Ed Case’ than anything else.’