Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye dies at age 88

Senator Daniel K. Inouye. Photo: East-West Center, CC some rights reserved

As reported by NPR and many other news outlets, long-time Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye passed away in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center late Monday afternoon. The cause of death was respiratory failure after being hospitalized on Dec 9th.

Inouye was the majority party’s most senior member of the U.S. Senate, and hence president pro tem. Constitutionally, that position is third in line for the presidency, after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

With Inouye’s passing, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy becomes the senator with the most seniority.

Inouye came to national attention as part of separate Senate hearings for Watergate and the Iran-Contra investigation.

His death will leave a void in Washington and an even bigger one in the landscape of the 50th state.

The joke in Hawaii was the state’s three economic pillars are tourism, the military and Senator Inouye – chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Inouye made no bones about maximizing that role, calling himself “king of pork”, while maintaining he sought to fund goals which served the greater good.

Inouye’s demise will lead to some shuffling of senate and committee roles, as discussed by this 12/17 Washington Wire blog on the Wall Street Journal.

While Sen. Inouye ranks as a great, important American leader, he was not perfect, or without critics, including long-standing complaints that Hawaii fell prey to an unhealthy degree of one-party domination, with Inouye as the most powerful player in that setting.

According to The Hill 

He had planned to run for another term in the Senate when his office was up in 2016. Instead Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) will name a temporary replacement until a special election can be held in 2014, when Hawaii voters will choose a senator to serve the remainder of Inouye’s term.

Hawaii suffered a double blow this year, losing all its seniority in one cycle. Besides Inouye’s death, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) is retiring after five terms.

Honolulu Civil Beat speculates on the most likely picks, reporting that Inouye favored Colleen Hanabusa, a current member of the the House of Representatives from Hawaii’s 1st district.

Daniel Inouye was born in humble circumstances yet he ended up in the thick of Hawaii’s most important social revolution of the 20th century. Namely, the remarkable patriotism shown by Hawaii’s nisei community during WW II and the rise of the Democratic Party in Hawaii’s post-war period. (Nisei refers to 2nd generation Americans of Japanese ancestry.)

He was a highly-decorated veteran who lost an arm during fierce combat in Italy. At the time, Inouye was nominated for the Medal of Honor but received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster and a Bronze Star.

As reported by Fox News, that was amended in 2000:

None of the Nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regiment ever received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration, even though many considered the battalion among the most heroic in World War II. More than 50 years later, the Distinguished Service Crosses given to Inouye and 21 other members of the regiment were upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Fifteen of the medals were awarded posthumously. President Clinton presented Inouye and the other remaining veterans with the Medal of Honor at the White House.

Among other causes and alliances, Inouye was a friend and champion of indigenous Hawaiian and Native American peoples.

To date, Inouye was America’s 2nd longest serving senator, behind Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and ahead of Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Inouye was elected to the House of Representatives in August of 1959 and became a Senator in 1963. (Sen. Leahy became a Senator in 1975.)

“Uncle Dan” has been one of my state’s two Representatives or Senators for very nearly my entire life.

According to media reports, Inouye died with family by his side.

Inouye’s office says the Senator’s last spoken word was “Aloha”. The all-encompassing Hawaiian expression means many things: hello, goodbye and love. Literally, “aloha” is the breath of life.

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2 Comments on “Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye dies at age 88”

  1. Hank says:

    Yes, a name I have long associated with the Watergate hearings in 1973. Thank you for this summary of his career.
    It is interesting how the feeling of change overtakes one when a public personality (such as Inouye or. in my case, for example, hockey superstar Gordie Howe) whom one seemingly has heard about almost all one’s life passes away.

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  2. Mayflower says:

    My most vivid image of this Senator is the Watergate tape in which Nixon and his aides discussed various Senators, looking for allies in the upcoming impeachment hearings. They concluded that Senator Inouye was Senator ‘Ain’t No Way.’

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