Friday, October 26, 2007

The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act that was passed Wednesday by the House is a stunning display of racial divisiveness. If enacted, it would further inflame tenuous race relations nationwide by allowing an estimated 400,000 people across the country who claim native Hawaiian ancestry to form their own body of government for negotiating with state and federal governments.

The body would manage various natural resources, lands and assets, all in the name of recouping natives’ lost autonomy after the United States overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.

This backward-looking legislation was condemned last year by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which issued a report claiming it would generate racial discrimination and “further subdivide the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege.”

On Monday, the White House issued a veto threat against the bill, citing a Supreme Court ruling that threw out state legislation with similar race-based qualifications for a native Hawaiian governing body. Supporters claim native Hawaiians deserve similar privileges and distinctions offered to American Indians. However, the White House rightly maintains that the two groups have substantial historical and cultural distinctions, rendering the comparison inaccurate. Indeed, the House bill would allow any resident to claim Hawaiian ancestry, even if they have no geographic, cultural or political connection to Hawaii or any sort of participation in a native Hawaiian community. Such an illogical standard for access to this privileged class leaves the proposal ripe for abuse.

Sponsors of the House bill were able to lure 39 Republicans by promising that the new ethnic government could not take private land, host casinos or receive other gambling privileges extended to Indian tribes. Despite these concessions, the final 261-153 vote Wednesday is well short of the majority needed for a veto override. A similar racial-profiling bill last year fell four votes short of the 60 votes needed for cloture in the Republican-controlled Senate. We’re not surprised.

The bill goes against the very core of American values, that all men and women are created equal and that government should not prefer one race or ethnic group over another. It also makes a mockery of civil-rights doctrine and law. As House Minority Leader John Boehner put it: “E Pluribus Unum.”

We urge the Senate to let this legislation die a horrible death.

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