Controversy follows Akaka bill, advisory committee
by Nancy Cook Lauer
Stephens Capitol Bureau
HONOLULU — Accusations of politics continue to swirl around an advisory committee working to make recommendations about the Akaka Bill to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Several members of the Hawaii State Advisory Committee said Wednesday they’re considering filing a complaint about Michael Yaki, a pro-Akaka commission member who sat in on a Sept. 5 meeting of the committee. Yaki is the second commission member to attend an advisory committee meeting this year — Commission Chairman Gerald Reynold attended the first meeting of the committee in August.
Committee members will be in Hilo Thursday to solicit public input about the Akaka Bill, which sets up a process for formal federal recognition of Native Hawaiians. The meeting starts at 12:30 p.m. at the State Office Building on Aupuni Street.
Advisory Committee Chairman Michael Lilly, in a discussion before the meeting Wednesday, asked fellow committee members whether they wanted to add a discussion of Yaki’s behavior to the day’s agenda. Lilly said Yaki, unlike Reynold, was “disruptive” during the Sept. 5 meeting and “disrespectful” to a speaker.
In addition, noted committee member Vernon Char, Yaki was later on a radio show criticizing the makeup of the committee and saying it was biased against the Akaka Bill, more formally known as Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007.
“I would make a complaint to the commission itself,” Char said, “if we are being undermined before we’ve even deliberated.”
At the suggestion of commission staff analyst Barbara de La Viez, who said she objected strongly to the issue being brought up in a public forum with reporters present, committee members agreed to send her e-mails instead of discussing it at the meeting.
Lilly told Stephens Media after the meeting that regardless of the visits by commission members, he felt that “we have complete control of our committee,” without interference from the commission. He doesn’t know whether to expect frequent visits by commission members or not, he said.
“It was a complete surprise to me that they showed up,” Lilly said.
The advisory committee was reorganized after a previous advisory committee recommended passage of the Akaka Bill, a recommendation that Civil Rights Commission overruled last year. Yaki wrote an impassioned dissenting opinion to that vote. Fourteen of the 17 advisory committee members are new, and several have demonstrated anti-Akaka ties.
Yaki characterized the flak about his visit as a way to “distract from the message by attacking the messenger.” He said his interview on Na Oiwi Olino Radio, a broadcast of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, was well within his free speech rights.
“I have every legal right to participate in state committee activities,” Yaki told Stephens Media in a telephone interview. “I will not hesitate to speak my mind. I am concerned that my colleagues in Washington, D.C., tried to create a committee that would act quickly to oppose the Akaka Bill. I’m hoping they will make their own independent judgments and not have the people in D.C. tell them how to do it.”