POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s life gave meaning to the title “The Greatest Generation.”
It was the courage of the veterans of the Second World War that earned the title, but it was the actual details of the lives of men and women like Inouye who made and defined that generation.
His death last week serves also as a capstone to the history of Hawaii’s deservedly famous World War II Regimental Combat Team.
Their bravery in Europe was matched only by their political skill in Hawaii as they reworked the American Territory and newest American state into a progressive Democratic stronghold.
Inouye was Hawaii, and his political life shaped the state. First elected to Congress when Hawaii added the 50th star to our flag, he served first in the House of Representatives and then the Senate for 53 years.
Interestingly, Inouye was such a force in local politics that his own future chairing the Senate Appropriations Committee was one of the reasons cited by local voters who wanted to support GOP former Gov. Linda Lingle, but did not want to see Inouye displaced.
Ironically last week in Washington, two senators, Patrick Leahy and Tom Harkin, according to the Congressional Quarterly, both turned down the post. Leahy said he would rather stay on as Judiciary chairman and Harkin announced that he would remain as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Although described by the national media as quiet and unassuming, Inouye was consumed with both national politics and the machinery of the nation’s budget. Few knew Inouye took an almost propriety interest in the goings-on back in Honolulu.
Like many combat veterans who served in Congress, Inouye believed in planning and management.
A congressional assistant once told me how Inouye, a great fan of aquariums, noticed that new fish had been introduced to his Washington, D.C., office tank.
“Inouye told his staff that no one was to ever put in anything, not a fish, a snail or a plant, without his approval,” the aide recalled.
Hawaii political aspirants soon learned that Inouye’s nod would be an immeasurably valuable endorsement. And failure to have the Inouye stamp of approval would hurt much more than not having a “union-made” stamp on campaign brochures.
So it was not surprising that Inouye would carefully plan for his own successor. Hours before his death, two trusted associates hand-delivered a letter from Inouye to Gov. Neil Abercrombie asking as his last request that U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be appointed to take his place in the United States Senate.
Hanabusa is a political power on her own, but early on she had Inouye’s support. While serving as Senate president, Hanabusa met privately with Inouye and reportedly was told that he wanted her as his successor.
Admirers point to Hanabusa’s brains and political savvy, adding that her “heart is Hawaiian.”
If seniority still counts in the Senate, a speedy appointment of Hanabusa this year would mean that, if even by just a few weeks, Hanabusa would be sworn into the Senate before U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono takes her place in the Senate in January.
That would make Hanabusa Hawaii’s senior senator and, in a final irony, Inouye gets the last word.