CASE VS. AKAKA
Serving in Washington is all about the power to make things happen
The announcement of the decision by Congressman Ed Case to challenge Sen. Daniel Akaka for his seat has generated predictable reactions and has raised heated charges on all sides. Columns in both papers have churned the emotions, repeating charges that Case's bid for the Senate seat might be disrespectful, disloyal, un-Hawaiian, traitorous, opportunistic, cheeky and impertinent.
Equally, there is the indirectly damning praise that Akaka is a gentleman, is nice, is upstanding and is honorable, which leaves the reader with the unstated sense that he is indeed all of these things, but -- and the "but" hangs in the air even when it is not spelled out -- perhaps just too old and tired to be effective. And for good measure there is the added accusation that his supporters are just "good old boys" at work, wannabes and sycophants.
There is a silliness in all this. Enough is enough. Regardless of how one feels about these individuals, the debate must first recognize the realities of service in our nation's capital. The Congress of the United States operates on a seniority system and power goes to those who have served the longest. It is in the best interests of Hawaii to have its delegation in leadership positions, and there is no running away from the fact that Hawaii's Senate delegation holds significant leadership positions.
As is well known, Sen. Daniel Inouye is the co-chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Akaka is the ranking member of the Senate Committee of Veteran Affairs and ranking member of three other subcommittees including the important Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Power in Washington is tied to these important assignments, and our Senate delegation wields great power that is important to Hawaii. The importance attached to this seniority-based power is seen in Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's reported request to Case that he not run.
So, let's keep this important issue of seniority and its practical value in mind as we judge who is best qualified to represent the state of Hawaii. If we choose to remove from office one of these powerful gentlemen, let it be with eyes open and with the conviction that the hoped-for, long-term merits outweigh the sacrifice of immediate strength.
For those who argue simply that Hawaii's Senate power will wane sometime anyway, as either of our senators resigns or dies, it would be well to remember that power, like money, is never more valuable than it is right now.
John Webster is director of Chaminade University's Hogan Entrepreneurs, a program that prepares students for entrepreneurial careers in business, government and non-profit organizations.