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Inouye's impact on Hawaii was monumental

LAST UPDATED: 10:49 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012

Hawaii has lost a stalwart and distinguished champion among the political leaders of the nation with the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, 88.

It is difficult to overstate the impact Inouye has had on Hawaii's development and policy decisions, from statehood on through the decades. In his later years, he was seen as the state's pre-eminent power broker; Inouye has been described in such terms for so long it almost obscures the lifetime of effort he had invested in building the foundations for change in the islands.

The reality into which he was born was radically different. The grandson of immigrants who left Japan to work in the sugarcane fields grew up in circumstances far removed from power and influence. Wartime often occasions great change, and Inouye was part of a generation that witnessed a social and political transformation in Hawaii as a result of World War II.

At 17 he saw the devastation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he volunteered to help in the medical rescue effort there. And just as some Americans of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast were driven to internment camps, Inouye and other second-generation AJAs became part of what would be known as the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Those honors came at the cost of many lives, and Inouye lost his right arm to injuries suffered on the battlefields of Europe, for which he received a Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in combat. In 2000, the award was upgraded to a Medal of Honor, which President Bill Clinton conferred on him at the White House.

After attending college and earning a law degree, as a beneficiary of the G.I. Bill, Inouye practiced law in Honolulu. Then, as labor disputes became the game-changer for Hawaii's upwardly mobile working class, Inouye became part of the Democratic Party revolution that resulted from the upheaval.

With his election to the territorial Legislature he launched his political career, a launch with a steep trajectory. After statehood, Inouye was one of Hawaii's first elected members of Congress. A few short years later, in the 1962 elections, Inouye won the seat in the U.S. Senate that he held for the rest of his life.

Inouye never forgot the racism he faced as a veteran, even with his wartime honors. It clearly sensitized him to the social changes ushered in by the 1960s, and in 1968, against the backdrop of Chicago protests, he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Rather than defending the foreign policy of the U.S. government, he castigated the Vietnam War as "immoral" and cited the racial discrimination and violence in U.S. cities.

That spotlight raised his profile, but it was really the Watergate investigative hearings in the Senate that gave him national prominence. Because of his seniority — he was the longest-serving senator after the late Robert Byrd — Inouye became president pro tempore of the Senate. That meant he ranked third in line of succession to the White House, behind the vice president and the speaker of the House.

Inouye was the kingpin in the Hawaii Democratic Party hierarchy; gaining his political favor, even if it was manifested behind the scenes, was considered essential to an ambitious candidate. But he was not an ideologue, preferring the more collegial alignments of past Senate generations to the current tug-of-war. He was part of the bipartisan "Gang of 14" that sought a compromise in judicial confirmation clashes of 2005. He was famously loyal to a Republican colleague, the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, when he came under fire for ethics charges.

Although in recent years Inouye put some support behind the push for Native Hawaiian federal recognition, the senator generally was known less for groundbreaking legislation than advocacy for Hawaii in budgetary matters. Inouye was unabashedly proud of his record for bringing home the bacon in earmarks for his home state, a record that was arrested when the practice fell out of favor under the Republican leadership of the U.S. House, where budget bills originate. Still, his position as Senate Appropriations chairman meant a great deal to a small state that otherwise is in danger of falling below the radar on Capitol Hill.

Certainly the senator's death leaves a void in the state's power structure. And although discussions about how to fill that are certain to intensify quickly, it's right to take a time out from the usual political skirmishes and acknowledge the immense importance of Daniel Inouye's life and work on Hawaii's behalf. He has earned that recognition. And it's unlikely in the foreseeable future that another leader will have an opportunity to leave such an indelible mark.

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serious wrote:
Let's name Magic Island "Dan K Inouye Park."
on December 18,2012 | 05:33AM
Wazdat wrote:
For all he has done Hawaii is NOT in the best shape.
on December 18,2012 | 06:46AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
We could be in worse.
on December 18,2012 | 07:42AM
allie wrote:
true but the mess here could have been greater
on December 19,2012 | 09:06AM
Venus1 wrote:
The train if is is built...The Inouye Express?
on December 18,2012 | 06:57AM
frontman wrote:
Hawaii will soon see the impact of the loss of all the "pork" Danny brought into the Islands. Hawaii will lose about 400 million a year in spending secured by Danny, now Hawaii will be on the financial cliff.
on December 18,2012 | 07:20AM
atilter wrote:
oooo - guess what sports fans, with the Inouye gravy train ended, our Hawaii "way of life", with all the federal hand-outs from governmental agencies to large major private construction projects, WILL BE AFFECTED - like it or not!!!! it's reality check and belt-tightening scramble time! we've become too complacent and very used to "receivers". AND - the rail check hasn't been cut yet! holy cow, batman, the "trough" is drying up!!!!
on December 18,2012 | 07:46AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Governor Abercrombie has a huge task ahead of him; selecting Senator Inouye's replacement for 4 years. Altho Inouye suggested Hanabusa as his replacement, there is no current politician who comes even close to having the power he had. I would suggest former Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki. He's got a lot of Washington contacts and is somewhat of a power broker himself. He's played with the big boys in Washington for some time now. Naming his to that position gives our junior representatives time to get a firm foothold in Congress.
on December 18,2012 | 07:47AM
serious wrote:
Political reality says Abercrombie will select one of the losers picked by the Hawaiian Democratic committee. He can't choose Hanabusa since that will cause an election and remember whan happened to Ted Kennedy's seat? Can't take that risk--got to keep this state 100% Democratic and maintain our hold in DC as the most inefficient state delegation. Doesn't this all sound stupid? But it's reality.
on December 18,2012 | 08:04AM
Puuloa wrote:
Blake Oshiro is the best bet to replace Inouye. We need someone that people respect and who represent the values and culture of our state and party.
on December 18,2012 | 05:16PM
allie wrote:
you are kidding..right?
on December 19,2012 | 09:09AM
allie wrote:
i like the idea of shinseki. Hanabooboo is a minor leaguer. Forget her. Nobody out here will be the next Dan. The rules of the senate were changing anyway and even Dan said he could not grab the tax payer money he once did due to earmarks going away, sequestered funds, the country being broke, etc. The old days are long gone. Wake up hawaii and get to work. You are on your own now.
on December 19,2012 | 09:08AM
Malani wrote:
Dan Inouye does deserve the acknowledgements. No one can say he has not done anything for Hawaii. If not for the fact all these years in Washington we can only wonder what or where Hawaii would be at this time. Durning the many years he has been in Washington he has heard the good the bad and the ugly of what he should or should not have done. We need to reflect back and see that no matter what our thoughts we can count that he has done more than our expections for our Islands. We seem to hold back the nice words when a person is alive but sure know how to dish the negatives after they pass on. I pray that we all remember to let those alive hear the good things now while walking on this earth. Dan Inouye leaves a history of who he is and what he had done in the many years as a politician. He is a household name that will not be forgotten.
on December 18,2012 | 09:09AM
AndrewWalden wrote:
"Rather than defending the foreign policy of the U.S. government, he castigated the Vietnam War as 'immoral'...." This is a lie. Read Inouye's real quote from the text of his speech, top of second column here: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/politics/inouye_articles/a.transcript.1968.pdf
on December 18,2012 | 09:28AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
Senator Inouye served Hawaii and the U.S. with great distinction and courage almost all the time. Unfortunately his zealousness for the Akaka bill led him to tell falsehoods about Hawaii's history on the floor of the U.S. Senate. It falls to us to correct his errors so his record can be unblemished. On June 7, 2006 during debate on the cloture motion for the Akaka bill, Senator Inouye said: (Congressional Record, page S5570): "I think it is about time that we reach out and correct the wrong that was committed in 1893. Yes, at that time the representative of the people of the United States directed a marine company on an American ship to land and take over the government. They imprisoned our queen. No crime had been committed. When the new government took over and turned itself over to the government of the United States and said, Please take us in, the President of the United States was President Cleveland at that time. He sent his envoy to Hawaii to look over the case. When he learned that the takeover had been illegal, he said this was an un-American act and we will not take over. The queen is free." Of course we all know the U.S. peacekeepers never entered the Palace grounds, did not take over any buildings, did not arrest the Queen, and were not under any orders to take over Hawaii's government. The ex-queen was imprisoned in the Palace not in 1893, but two years later; not by U.S. Marines but by the Republic of Hawaii; not as part of the revolution but on account of her complicity in an attempted violent counterrevolution when guns and bombs were found buried in her flower garden at her private home. Sorry Senator, I wish you had never said such nonsense.
on December 19,2012 | 05:59AM
allie wrote:
Ken is fact-based. As the SA reported, Dan was part of a concerted effort to switch hawaiians from voting for republicans as they had for the first half of the 20th century to loyal supporters of the dems. In order to do this he had to fork over vast sums of money. Where did all that money go? How was it spend and what were the results for the tax payer? Nobody dares say of course.
on December 19,2012 | 09:12AM
saveparadise wrote:
Aloha to a great man. A memorial statue should be displayed somewhere on Oahu. Mahalo for all you have done for us.
on December 19,2012 | 08:23AM
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