Recalling times when he received threats and was even spat upon, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye joined the chorus of pundits and even President Barack Obama in calling for more restraint in political rhetoric in the aftermath of the fatal shootings in Tucson.
"Right now they’re trying to point fingers," Inouye told reporters yesterday in his Honolulu office. "The right pointing fingers to the left, the left pointing fingers to the right — I think both sides have some room to complain.
"I think our rhetoric has become a bit too harsh."
Inouye spoke on a wide variety of topics, including his disappointment at the loss of federal earmarks for Hawaii and the prospects for federal funding for Honolulu’s rail mass transit system.
He said he expected a challenging environment in Washington, D.C., with Republicans now in control of the U.S. House, but he said lawmakers should resist the urge to ratchet up the dialogue.
Noting that the tone of political rhetoric has been angry for some time, Inouye recalled being spat upon in public during his first campaign and receiving threats by mail and phone when he served as a member of the Watergate investigative committee.
"Our democracy has been an active one, and I hope it continues to be active, where people will speak their minds and at times your voice gets loud. That’s fine," he said. "But threatening, that’s another thing."
Although he had only read Obama’s speech from Wednesday night’s memorial service for the Tucson victims, Inouye said he was pleased to see his call to move forward with a different tone.
"I’m glad that the president asked for calmness," he said. "Controlled rhetoric — I think we’re old enough and responsible enough to do that."
On other matters, Inouye said he was disappointed at the failure of the omnibus spending bill that included $321 million in earmarks for Hawaii. The bill was scuttled by the Senate amid concerns over earmarks.
"Yes, there are earmarks that are questionable, but they’re all transparent," he said. "We’ve cut it down to less than 1 percent of the discretionary funding, and as far as I’m concerned, I’d be willing to stand up for every earmark that I sponsored."
He also questioned why Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., singled out the Polynesian Voyaging Society as a symbol of wasteful spending.
"Of all the projects, he should’ve picked on something else," Inouye said, "because that’s a project that I’m proud of. It instills some self-pride among the young Hawaiian kids.
"To receive calls from them telling me, ‘Gee, I didn’t know that my ancestors sailed the Pacific 700 years before Columbus and they never got lost.’ Something like that would prevent that kid from becoming a juvenile delinquent, and when that happens we save money."
On federal funding for rail, Inouye said he would do everything in his power to ensure Honolulu receives the anticipated $1.5 billion in federal funding for the city’s rail transit project. He said he anticipates the fight to be tougher as Republicans in the House seek to rein in all federal spending.
Inouye said he also plans to do his part to reintroduce the Akaka Bill and he plans to meet today with leadership in the state House and Senate. Regarding the stalemate in negotiations over House leadership, Inouye would not say what resolution he might suggest.
"I’m going to say this much," he said. "Both houses have unbelievable majorities. It’s unheard of in other states. If we can’t conduct ourselves like a majority party, then don’t be surprised if the people of Hawaii get a little disgusted about it.
"That should be common sense."