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Akaka's retirement creates hiccup in roll call

The soothing rhythm of the senator's name will be missed when he leaves Washington

By Carl Hulse

New York Times


For years the name of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, easy on both the ears and tongue, has signaled the start of a roll call vote in the U.S. Senate. With Akaka's retirement, the top alphabetical spot falls to another. Akaka, center, shared a laugh with colleagues Dec. 11 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

WASHINGTON » It is a name that has echoed prominently through the Senate for years, even though most Americans know very little about the person himself.

"Mr. Akaka. …"

It has been both a signal for something starting to happen — a roll-call vote — or for nothing at all happening as the Senate drifts into another aimless quorum call and the legislative clerk dutifully ticks off the attendance list.

"Mr. Akaka. …"

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, a humble man long overshadowed by his better-known Hawaii colleague, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who died last week, has for more than a decade been first among equals in the Senate in at least one regard: the alphabet.

In that position, his name has touched off innumerable votes and other Senate procedures, the intonation amplified by C-SPAN to televisions, radios and now computers around the nation and the world.

"Mr. Akaka. …"

It rolls rhythmically off the clerk's tongue, a cadence so familiar in the marbled chamber that it is like a legislative lullaby.

Some who pay close attention to the Senate said they often found it soothing or reassuring to hear Akaka's name announced. It meant that even though the Senate was probably once again stuck on some partisan point, at least the procedural wheels were grinding.

Those whose job it was to say the name again and again took real pleasure in it.

"It became very natural saying his name because of the three syllables, the first soft one and the two hard ones," said David J. Tinsley, a longtime legislative clerk who called Akaka's name hundreds of times before leaving the Senate in 2008. "It just kind of settled in. That is the one I will always remember when I think of calling the roll."

Now, the Akaka era is coming to an end. Akaka, 88, is retiring, departing not long after the death of Inouye, who was born just four days before him in 1924. It is a huge change for Hawaii, which was represented in the Senate since 1963 by Inouye, a legendary figure both in Hawaii and Washington, and since May 1990 by Akaka after his appointment to the unexpired term of the late Sen. Spark Matsunaga and subsequent election to three full terms.

And it will be a change for the Senate as well, not only in the loss of two popular Democratic colleagues but also for the role Akaka played in the roll.

"It is almost as if he were part of the Senate procedure," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is now in line to lead off the roll after Akaka departs with the start of the 113th Congress on Jan. 3. "It is like a page will be missing from the rule book. It is unsettling, and it is going to take a little getting used to."

Akaka has not been No. 1 his entire tenure. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., came along in 1995 and took over the top spot. But he was defeated in 2000 by a Demo­crat, Debbie Stabenow, clearing the way for Akaka's return to the top of the order.

"I have always been proud about it, and I am going to miss it," Akaka said of his alpha-Senate status. "The clerk told me the other day, ‘Wow, I am going to miss calling your name.'"

While myriad others have led off the roll call over the years, there is something about Akaka's name that made it stand out. Perhaps it is the rhythm. Maybe it is because it is the same forward and backward, perfect in an institution that seems to go backward as much as forward. And it is spelled with only two letters.

"I tell people if you want to remember my name, it is three aces and two kings," Akaka said.

Unlike Inouye, Akaka is far from a national figure. He was the first Native Hawaiian elected to the Senate, led the Veterans Affairs Committee for a time and worked closely with Inouye on home-state issues and projects. He is probably best known for pursuing a measure to win federal recognition for Native Hawaiians that he was able to get through the House while a member but that stalled in the Senate.

He is also known internally for picking out the hymn at the weekly Senate prayer breakfast.

"He is a wonderful man, and we will miss him," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

And they will also miss the familiar sound of his name.

"Mr. Akaka. …"

More From The Star-Advertiser

Akaka bids aloha to Senate

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allie wrote:
Hawaii's delegation has been an embarrassment for some time. Let us hope Brian can upgrade things.
on December 27,2012 | 05:24AM
false wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on December 27,2012 | 06:16AM
false wrote:
How you folks talk is beyond me. Go somewhere else. Take your antagonism with you.
on December 27,2012 | 06:42AM
Kawipoo wrote:
You firsr!
on December 27,2012 | 12:36PM
Poipounder808 wrote:
You don't have a clue Allie, seriously.
on December 27,2012 | 06:59AM
clum56 wrote:
I disagree with you, Senator Daniel Akaka and The Late Daniel Inouye did a lot for our great State of Hawai'i, Where have you ben these past 50 years!!!!
on December 27,2012 | 07:02AM
maafifloos wrote:
Akaka & Inouye are typical of the kind of thinking that put the US where it is today. In debt for generations. US is like many of the European socialist countries/
on December 27,2012 | 02:49PM
Aquarius1 wrote:
Allie: Oh, how would you know? Supposedly you're a young college student transplanted from North Dakota. So how would you know? Seems like its all a facade and it's a masquerade. Shibai!
on December 27,2012 | 07:13AM
Kawipoo wrote:
Totally agree!
on December 27,2012 | 12:35PM
loveneverfails wrote:
allie: if that's how you feel about our leaders in washington .....MOVE AWAY! the grass is no greener elsewhere. You can go live with the Palins in Alaska.
on December 27,2012 | 04:32PM
st1d wrote:
"He is probably best known for pursuing a measure to win federal recognition for Native Hawaiians that he was able to get through the House while a member but that stalled in the Senate."

22 years in the senate, and he is best known for a failed bill. that says it all.

a career too long, a retirement long overdue.

on December 27,2012 | 06:22AM
false wrote:
Another example of Hawaiians being dismissed. Colonization at its best.
on December 27,2012 | 06:43AM
st1d wrote:
let me put it another way. i was involved in bills and efforts both here and d.c. i contacted our senators and reps, inouye, akaka, case, and abercrombie. i received personal support and advice from all except akaka who never responded to letters, phone calls or requests for meetings. eventually, the bills and efforts were successful, but without any word or contact from akaka.

it wasn't that he was dismissed as hawaiian, but that he dismissed himself from work.

on December 27,2012 | 07:33AM
maafifloos wrote:
I still remember. Akaka was selected one of the five worse senators by Newsweek ( a liberal mag).
on December 27,2012 | 02:51PM
fstop wrote:
I remember Sen. Akaka as always being available for a chat in his office with his wife for those of us who traveled from Hawaii to DC...but to be remembered for being the first name to be called? That is troubling...
on December 28,2012 | 07:38AM
Kawipoo wrote:
on December 27,2012 | 12:37PM
mynah wrote:
Gish. And all this time I thought these two were just about the best anyone could wish for to represent a state.
on December 27,2012 | 06:42AM
steveoctober wrote:
Millions, perhaps even billions of dollars lost for the islands because of this man who's greatest achievement in his tenure is picking out the breakfast hymn ?
on December 27,2012 | 06:46AM
mcc wrote:
What did Akaka do besides be a very nice person?
on December 27,2012 | 07:10AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
I'm a big fan of CSPAN and often tune in to their live coverage of the Senate. I have heard the clerk call "Mr. Akaka" hundreds of times; and hundreds of times Mr. Akaka does not respond. There's a song which says "When the roll is called up yonder I'll be there." But that seems not to apply to our palindromic Senator. When the roll is called up yonder (at the clerk's desk), he's NOT there. And even when he IS there, it usually looks like he's not really there. But I do wish him a happy retirement, and regret that he did not start enjoying it many years ago (although perhaps he did!)
on December 27,2012 | 07:15AM
LadyNinja wrote:
Respect. The newly appointed Senator Brian Schatz is the former Lt. Governor of the State of Hawaii. It does not matter if he is Jewish, I don't care, let him do the job as he sees to do it. Senator Schatz now represents the state of Hawaii, the late Senator Inouye did an awesome job, but has passed. Senator Akaka has chosen a well deserved retirement. Now it is time for Senator Schatz. Let's all wish him the best.
on December 27,2012 | 07:27AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Sad that after so many years your departure only causes a "hiccup".
on December 27,2012 | 08:22AM
lee1957 wrote:
Hiccup? Find a first grader, they will be able to sort the new list alphabetically.
on December 27,2012 | 10:55AM
false wrote:
Well it is good to know that the people of Hawaii will know of his greatest accomplishment as US Senator.
on December 27,2012 | 02:04PM
Kapuna wrote:
Sabbath Salom! O sons of Israel.
on December 27,2012 | 06:30PM
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