U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka announced today that he will not run for re-election in 2012.
Akaka, 86, has served in the Senate since 1990. He previously served a little more than 13 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“After months of thinking about my political future, I am announcing today that I have decided not to run for re-election in 2012,” Akaka said in a statement. “As many of you can imagine, it was a very difficult decision for me. However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve the people of Hawaii. In 2006, the people of Hawaii gave me an opportunity to continue my service in the United States Senate and I fully intend to serve the last two years of my term in office.”
Akaka informed his staff and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the state’s top Democrat, of his decision this evening in Washington.
President Barack Obama issued a statement offering his best wishes to Akaka and his wife, Millie.
“Danny Akaka answered the call to serve right after high school by joining the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. When he returned to Honolulu, he continued to serve the people of Hawaii as an educator before embarking on more than three decades of distinguished service in both houses of Congress,” Obama said.
“Danny spent his career fighting for our troops, veterans and their families and for the rights of Native Hawaiians. He worked tirelessly to reform Wall Street and to make sure that consumers and small business owners are treated fairly in our system,” the president said. “His voice in the Senate will be missed. Michelle and I would like to join the people of Hawaii in saying ‘mahalo’ to Danny for his lifetime of service and offer both him and Millie our best wishes for the future.”
Akaka, who is of Native Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry, is considered the most beloved Hawaii politician. He is well-regarded in both Washington and in the islands for his gracious manner and spirit of aloha.
But questions have been raised about his effectiveness and whether he should pursue another six-year term.
Akaka had said previously that he planned to run for re-election, but had not raised much money for a campaign.
Several Democrats, including Inouye, have expressed concern about his fundraising. Some Democrats also worried about whether Akaka could withstand a tough re-election campaign. Former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican with proven fundraising prowess, is thinking about a potential Senate run.
Akaka was replaced this year as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. He is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and is a leading member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Akaka has been an advocate for the rights of Native Hawaiians. In 1993, working with Inouye, he helped with a resolution in which the United States formally apologized for its role in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.
Over the past decade, Akaka has unsuccessfully pushed for a bill that would recognize Hawaiians as an indigenous people, similar to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The bill passed the House but has not moved in the Senate, mostly due to opposition from conservatives who believe it is race-based discrimination.
Akaka had not been seriously challenged for re-election until 2006, when former congressman Ed Case took him in on in the primary. Case raised the issue of Akaka’s age and the importance of leadership transition, but Akaka held on with the fundraising and tactical help of establishment Democrats in Washington and Hawaii.
Akaka and Inouye, who is also 86 and the most senior Democrat in the Senate, have the most seniority of any state delegation.
Akaka served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. He is a graduate of the Kamehameha School for Boys and the University of Hawaii and was an educator before he entered politics.
He and his wife have a daughter and four sons.
“Millie and I will return to Hawaii at the end of this Congress and spend time with our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren,” Akaka said in his statement. “I would also like to spend time documenting my life and career, and serving as a mentor to future political leaders. I have always strived to serve the people with much love and aloha, never forgetting my humble beginnings, and it is my hope that they, too, will continue this tradition. We must never forget that we, as political leaders, work for the people of Hawaii and not the special interests.
“I will always cherish the time I spent working in Washington, D.C., and extend my heartfelt thanks to the people of Hawaii for their confidence in me.
“I would like to thank my family, my staff and my friends for their unwavering support. I would like to especially thank my wife, Millie, for her continuous support and encouragement. I could not have done it without her. Finally, I would like to thank Senator Dan Inouye. I will forever be grateful for his friendship and steadfast support.”
Democrats and independents have a 53 to 47 majority over Republicans in the Senate. Akaka’s seat will likely be one of several that could tip the balance of power in the Senate after the 2012 elections.