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Dan the Man

Hawaii Statesman to Seek an 8th Term; Even GOP Lauds His Service

Long live Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), most people from the Aloha islands seem to say, because no one knows what will happen when he’s gone.

Inouye, 78, said last week that he prefers not to think about the day when he’s no longer in office.

“Psychologically, I never put that in my mind,” he said.

Yes, the Senator plans to run for an eighth term in 2004.

“I just finished a physical exam. I’m supposed to be in better shape than I was 30 years ago,” he said.

Few Hawaiians doubt Inouye’s probability of re-election. Even state Republican Party Chairman Brennon Morioka said his party does not envision diverting many resources to a GOP challenge in 2004. Republicans have yet to find a candidate willing to run against Inouye.

“Our focus is on the state races,” Morioka said. However, Morioka said several Republicans have expressed interest in running once Inouye retires.

Ira Rohter, a University of Hawaii political science professor, said most Hawaiians tend to react in two ways when contemplating Inouye’s retirement.

“One is denial. And the other is musical chairs,” he said.

Former Gov. John Waihee (D), said the level of federal dollars Inouye funnels back home is the main reason why it’s difficult to contemplate a successor.

“He is maybe the person in government who is most responsible for bringing home the bacon to Hawaii,” he said. “Even the best person would have to take some time to achieve the status that he has.”

In addition to being in office for 40 years, Inouye is the second-highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Bob Rees, a political analyst and host of a Hawaii Public Radio talk show, said Hawaiians are due for a shock after Inouye’s inevitable departure.

“I don’t think people here have any idea of what’s going to happen. We think it naturally occurs that the East-West Center gets $20 million [in federal funding],” he said, referring to a Honolulu-based, federally funded research center concentrating on the Asia Pacific region.

Republicans worry, too, about the specter of disappearing federal funds.

“That is one of our fears, what does happen when he steps down,” Morioka said.

Add a state Democratic Party still reeling from its first-ever gubernatorial campaign loss last year, and by many accounts in disarray, and it becomes even more difficult for political observers to think about Inouye’s successor.

“We’re not an organized party, we’re Democrats,” Waihee observed, paraphrasing Will Rogers.

Lorraine Akiba, former Hawaii Democratic Party chairwoman, said that for state Democrats, the successor issue is not “even on their horizon.”

Rees said Hawaii Democrats tend not to deal with retirement and death very well. Even when then-Rep. Patsy Mink (D) “was on her deathbed [last year], nobody wanted to think about the eventuality of her death. It was only after she died that we had to go through all sorts of particular gyrations.”

Those gyrations included two special elections to replace her within the space of six weeks.

Still, some names do surface as possible Inouye successors, including Hawaii’s two House Members, Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D) and Ed Case (D).

“Both of them have their eyes on that position, particularly Neil Abercrombie because he’s been there longer,” Rees said.

Abercrombie’s press secretary said the Representative would refuse to comment.

Case, who was elected to replace Mink late last year, said his priority was re-election to the House, but added, “Of course I would consider running for the U.S. Senate if that opening occurred. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

If it doesn’t happen with Inouye in 2004, it could happen two years later. Hawaii’s other Senator, Daniel Akaka (D), is just four days younger than Inouye and has had several operations to replace his knee and hip joints. He comes up for re-election in 2006.

Rees mentioned Waihee as a possible Senate candidate as well. The former two-term governor replied, “I’ve always thought about running for the United States Senate.” But he added, “I’m not doing anything in particular in anticipation of that occurring.”

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