This weekend marks Statehood Day in Hawaii. It marks the day in 1959 when the island territory became the 50th state after a public referendum in which residents -- by a margin of 17 to 1 -- expressed a desire to join the U.S. There used to be parades, fireworks, speeches and U.S. flags flying high. But five years ago, then-Democratic Governor Ben Cayetano put the kibosh on official celebrations. Now, in the words of the Web site HawaiiReporter.com, there is only a "sad, embarrassing silence." Recently, the streets were taken over instead by demonstrators crusading for "Native Hawaiian rights" and the Akaka bill now before the U.S. Senate.
For five years, Hawaii Senator Dan Akaka has been pushing a bill to recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with their own race-based, sovereign government, as many mainland Indian tribes have. He has finally won the right to a vote in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 6. He claims the support of 51 Senators. Since the House previously passed a version of his bill, it has a chance of becoming law since the Bush administration refuses to take a position on it.
While Native Hawaiians deserve better than what they have, the Akaka bill is a profound mistake. The people of Hawaii are a true melting pot, living in remarkable harmony. Native Hawaiians have so intermarried with people of other ethnicities that over 90 percent of those who claim Hawaiian heritage do so by virtue of ancestry that is less than 50 percent Hawaiian. Creating a separate government that would subject people who pass a test for "Hawaiian blood" to a different set of legal codes would not produce racial reconciliation. It would be a recipe for permanent racial conflict.
Those who doubt this only have to listen to Sen. Akaka himself, who acknowledges that his bill would open a can of worms. On Monday, National Public Radio reported the Senator as saying that the sovereignty granted Native Hawaiians in the bill "could eventually go further, perhaps even leading to outright independence." Sen. Akaka was quoted as adding: "That could be. That could be. As far as what's going to happen at the other end, I'm leaving it up to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
On Thursday, after a storm of criticism, Sen. Akaka sought to clarify his remarks. No, he doesn't support "independence or secession," he said in a press release. But he carefully avoided clarifying whether or not secession was possible. "After the Native Hawaiian governing entity is recognized, these issues will be negotiated between the entity and the Federal and State governments," he wrote. "This is an inclusive and democratic process that cannot be predetermined by those who seek to influence the outcome of the process before it's even started."
Fellow Senators ought to think hard before voting for a bill which may ultimately have the consequence of dividing Hawaii rather than uniting it.
Based on my "Political Diary" article at OpinionJournal.com.