SEN. DANIEL INOUYE PASSES AWAY
In a week marked by death and worlds coming to an end, we’d like to discuss the sad passing of U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye. He died at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center of a respiratory ailment at about noon Hawaii time on Dec. 17. He was 88. His last word, reportedly, was “Aloha.”
Inouye was severely wounded when fighting with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II and won the Medal of Honor as a result. His seniority in the U.S. Senate granted him the position of President pro tempore, and he’s been representing Hawaii in Washington pretty much forever. First elected to Hawaii’s Territorial Legislature in the early 1950s, he got elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 when John F. Kennedy was president. Just a week ago, Civil Beat was reporting that Inouye said he wanted to run for reelection again when his current term expires in 2016 (when he would have been 92).
To say Inouye played even a huge role in government would be to understate his achievements. As Oahu blogger Ian Lind recalled in a post earlier this week, Inouye played major parts in the Senate’s hearings on both Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal. But he was no hippie lefty–Inouye also backed President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War.
But Inouye’s greatest legacy was that of a pork barrel politician. Seriously, the guy was a master at securing bipartisan support for federal earmarks for Hawaii. And there’s no better example of Inouye’s prowess than the H-3 on Oahu.
Nicknamed “Danny’s Highway,” the freeway took three decades to build, mostly because of a long string of environmental lawsuits (given the fact that the freeway slashed across some of the island’s most pristine wilderness, this was hardly surprising). But all that ended in 1986 when Inouye got more than three-quarters of his Senate colleagues to sign on to a special bill exempting the project from future environmental litigation.
The H-3 finally opened 11 years later. At the time, the Los Angeles Times reported that the freeway was “25 years late and 18 times more expensive than the original estimate,” but it was open.
At the same time, Inouye apparently was one of the few Hawaii politicians of his generation who didn’t see the need to make money off the development of Hawaii. In fact, his name is conspicuously absent from Land and Power in Hawaii, a brutal but extensively reported 1985 takedown by George Cooper and Gavan Daws of the many lines of intersection between Hawaii officials and profitable land development–an absence the authors noted in their book’s conclusion:
“In his years in local politics he was quite closely associated with Democrats who worked steadily as developers’ lawyers and who themselves invested in real estate development through huis,” the authors wrote. “And in the early days of rezonings around Diamond Head, he himself for a time represented one of the developers. But over the years he apparently invested very little in real estate.”
Inouye’s passing means means there are huge power vacuums in both Washington and Hawaii. Even imaging Hawaii without Inouye must be giving Democrats across the state jitters. In the 24 hours after his death, my inbox flooded with condolence emails from all manner of government officials, including Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa (“He has always championed the interests of Hawai‘i’s people”), state Senate President Shan Tsutsui (“we have lost a true American hero”), the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii (“the entire country lost a statesman and a honorable politician”), University of Hawaii President M. R. C. Greenwood (“He was our most distinguished graduate”) and even U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (“Danny’s legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of those he touched over his eight decades of service to the nation he loved and cherished”).
The monsoon of condolences and accolades was hardly a surprise, given Inouye’s reputation as a virtual kingmaker in Hawaii. It was an open secret that those who coveted high office in Hawaii needed his blessing. Ed Case is one of the few Democrats who openly crossed him (by running against Senator Akaka in 2006) and it’s probably no coincidence that Case hasn’t gotten close to elected office since.
The question now before us is who will succeed Inouye. State law requires Governor Neil Abercrombie (who openly wept when delivering his condolences the night Inouye died) to appoint a Democrat, who will hold the seat until a special election in 2014 formally elects a successor. Of the possible candidates, Case is probably the most qualified, but given that Inouye reportedly left deathbed instructions that Abercrombie appoint Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa to the seat, it’s doubtful he’ll get anywhere near it.
In any case, Civil Beat says that if Abercrombie appoints the successor before Jan. 3, that person will become the new Senior Senator from Hawaii.
THE WORLD ENDS EVERY DAY FOR SOMEONE
This paper went to press on Wednesday, Dec. 19, so forgive us if the world ended on Friday, Dec. 21 like a bunch of cynical, wildly off-base readings of the ancient Mayan calendar predicted and this paper, along with the rest of the planet and probably the whole entire universe just up and went poof.
Hey, if it makes you feel better, the world ends every day for someone. On Dec. 14, it ended for more than two dozen people (most of them small children) in a Newtown, CT school. That morning their parents packed them lunches and helped them with the last-minute spelling homework and kissed them goodbye and went on with their day, not realizing that their little child’s world was about to end in useless violence.
If you have children, then even if you lived way out here in Hawaii, your weekend probably included at least one pretty anxious, nervous family discussion about whether that kind of thing could ever happen here. The news vans were still rolling into Newtown when Hawaii schools superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi put out this slightly reassuring, slightly nerve-wracking statement:
“All of Hawaii’s public schools have emergency procedures in place and today our teams revisited those procedures with a heightened awareness,” she said in a Dec. 14 press release. “While this tragedy is incomprehensible, all of our schools have counseling services available for students, parents, and teachers who may need them.”
Like it or not, this is the world that didn’t end on Dec. 21. Mass shootings, though still very rare, are part of the norm in the United States. Most people who are murdered in this country don’t die in such huge spectacles, but they do happen.
“Newtown wasn’t a tragedy,” Stephen Marche wrote on Esquire’s blog on Dec. 17. “Newtown was a policy decision.”
Cold blooded, perhaps. But true. Having the world end because of some cartoonish prophecy was a cheap and easy solution to horrors like Newtown. But it didn’t work, and now we need to think.