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Hawaii’s Clout Will Diminish

On Monday night in Hawaii, one local TV station was already discussing the loss of federal money that’s expected to follow the death of Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

With the absence of the Appropriations chairman who steered federal funds to Hawaii and the retirement of his longtime colleague, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, the Aloha State will move from having one of the most senior delegations with two committee chairmen to being among the most junior.

“Sen. [Ted] Stevens, from Alaska, a very similar situation, our 49th state, we’re the 50th. He was senator for a long time [and] when he was no longer in the Senate, Alaska lost 75 percent of their federal monies. We might be facing that,” John Hart, a professor at Hawaii Pacific University, warned KHON-TV.

During an interview in July, Inouye touted his work to ensure that Hawaii got a share of federal interstate highway money, despite having no land connection to any other state.

If an appointed successor to Inouye is not seated before the new Congress begins, another Democrat, Sen.-elect Mazie K Hirono, would instantly be the senior senator upon her swearing-in on Jan. 3. Inouye’s “last wish,” according to his office, was that Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be appointed to his seat.

Hawaii’s loss could have effects on Alaska. Because the two states are not contiguous with the rest of the union and are the two newest states, Alaska and Hawaii have unique needs that are shared. The connection between Inouye and Stevens, a Republican, was legendary; the two World War II veterans called each other “brother.”

“As a kid growing up, I wasn’t sure if we had two senators or three senators, because Sen. Inouye’s name was so well-known throughout Alaska,” Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Begich defeated Stevens in 2008, with the man known to Alaskans as “Uncle Ted” under an ethical cloud. Inouye campaigned for Stevens during that cycle. Their friendship also often extended to Akaka. Both Akaka and Inouye voted with Stevens in 2005 in an effort to break a filibuster of a defense spending bill that would have allowed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The drilling language was the major sticking point on the bill, which fell four votes short of the 60 needed to end debate.

On that issue, Hirono differs from her predecessors. An aide said the senator-elect has been clear in her opposition to drilling in the ANWR. She was endorsed during her campaign by several environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club.

“Representative Hirono understands that investments in a clean energy future are investments in well-paying, stable jobs for Hawaiians for generations to come,” LCV President Gene Karpinski said in a May endorsement.

Hirono, who was given a seat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is not expected to be a crossover vote to the Republican side on energy issues, as can often be the case with fellow Democratic Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

Nonetheless, Begich hopes to have the chance to influence Hirono on energy issues and other matters of interest to Alaskans.

“I think there has always been this relationship with Hawaii, not only on energy issues, but Alaska Native and Hawaiian issues,” Begich said last week. “I think so, and I hope so. She’s already shown some of that on the House side, working with Congressman Young, so I think that that will carry over here.”

Hirono has had such a strong relationship with Rep. Don Young that the Alaska Republican actually recorded a campaign Web ad backing her during the Senate primary, although he endorsed the GOP candidate in the general election. During the comedic ad, Hirono kept Young from insulting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as Young offered praise for Hirono’s work for the two states.

“Here’s what’s important, Hawaii: If you’re looking for a United States senator who doesn’t just talk about bipartisanship but actually knows how to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done — Mazie Hirono will be that senator,” Young says in the ad. Alaskan senators have typically backed efforts by their counterparts from the Aloha State to secure federal recognition for the Native Hawaiian population similar to that already enjoyed by Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Akaka and Inouye each served as the top Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Lauren Gardner contributed to this report.

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