Posted tagged ‘Daniel Akaka’

Akaka leaves a political void

March 3, 2011

Give U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka credit for a graceful announcement of his retirement after getting a less-than-gentle shove from his Democratic colleagues.

Akaka announced months ago that he planned to run for re-election in 2012 at 88, but he’d raised a paltry $66,000 for a likely formidable challenge from former Gov. Linda Lingle in a race that could cost $3 million to $6 million.

Fellow senators gave him their first hint that they didn’t think he was their best chance at beating Lingle when they dropped him as chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee, which embarrassed him and cost him political capital at home.

Then a week ago, fellow Hawai‘i Sen. Daniel Inouye said pointedly that Akaka shouldn’t expect the outpouring of financial and and moral support he received from colleagues in 2006 when he faced a primary challenge from former Rep. Ed Case.

Now that Akaka has gotten the message and announced he’ll step down after finishing his term, the big question is whether the Democrats who nudged him out were right that they can find a stronger candidate to take on Lingle.

Though his age and failure to pass his signature Akaka bill for native Hawaiian political recognition were becoming liabilities, Akaka has been one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in politics during his more than 30 years in Washington and enjoys a deep well of aloha among local voters. He hasn’t lost an election since 1974.

The four Democrats most likely to run for the seat — U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Case — all have spotty records with voters and have lost as many or more big races as they’ve won.

In listing potential candidates, Inouye mentioned a couple of intriguing younger and fresher possibilities in Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and Tammy Duckworth, a McKinley grad who is assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but a crowded primary might be politically problematic for either.

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Akaka gets no respect

January 27, 2011

The decision of U.S. Senate Democrats to dump Hawai‘i’s 86-year-old Sen. Daniel Akaka as veterans affairs chairman and move him to the less prestigious Indian Affairs Committee is a political surprise.

Senators seldom make such moves for age alone, unless there is a feeling that the member isn’t up to the job anymore. That’s how senior Hawai‘i Sen. Daniel Inouye rose to appropriations chairman over the late Sen. Robert Byrd.

A hint that Akaka is starting to slip is a heck of a message to send Hawai‘i voters as he gears up for a potentially tough re-election campaign against former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, with Democrats fighting an uphill battle to hold their two-vote Senate majority.

If the Democrats are sending Akaka a message that they want him to step aside and let a younger Democrat take on Lingle, it would be interesting to know whom they have in mind.

Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case would likely jump at the chance, but they could turn out to be seriously damaged political goods after their big losses in 2010 — Hannemann for governor and Case for Congress.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa would be pushing it with voters to start campaigning for the Senate halfway through her first term in the House, and U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono is a light achiever who could be a tough sell as the heavy lifter Hawai‘i needs to get ready to pick up the load after Inouye passes from the scene. Would former Gov. John Waihee eye a comeback at 66?

If the Democrats want to move past Akaka, their best bet would be to persuade him to step down sometime this year and let Abercrombie appoint a replacement who could run against Lingle as an incumbent.

But Akaka has resisted such pushes for 20 years, and the fight among Democratic factions over who gets the appointment could become ugly.

Update: If you want to learn how to spin like a pro, check out this press release that just came out.

Democrats go mindless on taxes

December 9, 2010

While local Democrats celebrate their near sweep in the recent election, their counterparts in Washington are proving the old Will Rogers line: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

Congressional Democrats have made jokes of themselves by bashing their own president for cutting a necessary deal with Republicans to preserve tax cuts for the middle class and secure benefits for the unemployed in exchange for also temporarily extending tax cuts for the wealthy.

They get their butts kicked in the election and they respond by fighting with each other instead of the other side.

We should remember that President Barack Obama had to negotiate a compromise with Republicans only because Democratic lawmakers, who control both houses, couldn’t deliver the votes to support the bill they and Obama wanted to end the tax cuts for the wealthy.

If you don’t have the votes for the deal you want, you negotiate the best deal you can get, and that’s what Obama did. If the Democrats’ prospects improve, they can fight it again when the tax cuts expire in two years — and between now and then, they can do all the railing they want to hold Republicans accountable for pandering to the rich.

What’s the point of a protracted fight the Democrats can’t currently win that only sticks it to middle-class taxpayers and the unemployed? If the Democrats don’t have the votes now, winning the fight only diminishes come January when the GOP takes over the House and picks up seats in the Senate.

Since when is it weakness to pursue responsible compromise when you lack the votes to have it all your own way?

Our own Democratic Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka had it right when they said they’ll will support Obama’s compromise to help working families despite their strong reservations about extending tax cuts for the wealthy, which Inouye said will cause him to  “hold my nose.”

Akaka said, “Working families in Hawai‘i need our help to put food on the table. They will spend the money locally and help our economy. I simply cannot allow these middle-class tax cuts to expire or abandon the unemployed during these tough times.”

Can the Akaka bill survive legislative ineptitude?

July 7, 2010

The Akaka bill for Native Hawaiian political recognition is complex  legislation that has the potential to change life in Hawai’i in the most fundamental ways.

That’s why I always took comfort that for most of its life, the bill had the support of virtually all of the state’s political establishment from nearly every ideological stripe; I figured if something was terribly wrong, somebody would blow the whistle.

For the same reason, it made me uncomfortable when our Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye pulled out major last-minute amendments without bothering to inform Gov. Linda Lingle, costing them her support.

It was highly suspicious that the senators and the Obama administration felt a need to sneak around behind the back of a Republican governor who for seven years had been a solid ally in lobbying for the bill against the grain of national GOP opposition.

The secret changes they made to give a Hawaiian governing entity a high level of immunity from state laws before any negotiations took place were never satisfactorily explained.

Today’s announcement that Akaka and Inouye are amending the bill again to satisfy Lingle’s objections and bring her back on board restores the original political comfort level.

It’s long past time to start resolving festering Hawaiian grievances stemming from the overthrow of their monarchy, and hopefully it’s not too late to get the Akaka bill on the busy Senate calendar and overcome a threatened Republican filibuster before Congress adjourns for the election.

Akaka and Inouye entered this Congress with an early filibuster-proof Democratic majority, the support of a new president born in Hawai’i and the best chance they’ll ever have to pass this bill.

If they end up blowing it because of their inept overreaching, it’ll amount legislative malpractice.

***

I look at another kind of political pyrotechnics in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Short of banning fireworks, at least pass a decent law.”


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