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Tuesday, October 21, 2014         

2012 COMMEMORATIVE EDITION • ENDURING LEGACY


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A hero for Hawaii

The beloved senator was a quiet yet staunch advocate for his home state

By Derrick DePledge

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:44 p.m. HST, Dec 21, 2012


Daniel Ken Inouye, the grandson of Japanese immigrants, sacrificed his right arm for his country in combat during World War II and devoted much of his life as an unwavering voice for Hawaii in the U.S. Senate.

Inouye was a monumental force in Hawaii politics who represented the islands as a Democrat in Washington, D.C., with poise and dignity since statehood in 1959. He was the first Japanese-American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and over nine terms he rose to become the Senate president pro tempore, third in line to the presidency.

Inouye, who was given the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, for his bravery on the battlefield in Italy in World War II, had prominent roles in the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 and in congressional investigations into the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals in the 1970s and 1980s.

"His was the greatest success."
—Tom Coffman, Hawaii author and historian, on Inouye's role in securing federal funds that have helped the islands earn a place on the worldwide stage

Inouye was a patriot who believed in military expansion yet had a soldier's view of war. He was a respected voice on equality and civil rights who had experienced the stain of racism firsthand.

But the senator was probably best known as an unapologetic advocate for Hawaii. For a half-century, Inouye directed billions in federal money that helped transform the islands from sugar and pineapple plantations into a prosperous state known worldwide for its tourism and strategic military value.

"There have only been a very few people who have been able to fulfill that role with great success. And his was the greatest success," said Tom Coffman, a Hawaii author and historian.

Inouye never lost an election and earned more than 2 million votes during a political career that began with the historic Democratic takeover of the Territorial Legislature in 1954 and ended with his ninth Senate victory in 2010. The senator, who was often uncomfortable with public attention, preferred to stay mostly in the background nationally but could be merciless when it came to using his influence for Hawaii.

"He's long been known as a fierce protector of home-state interests," said Christopher Deering, a political science professor at George Washington University in Washington, where Inouye went to law school. "He's also been a highly respected inside player."

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