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Isle delegates believe Obama carries aloha


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POSTED: Sunday, January 18, 2009

WASHINGTON » U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye not only knows history, he's lived it.

               

     

 

By the numbers

15,000 to 18,000: Volunteers helping Presidential Inaugural Committee around the city.

       

4,100: Minimum number of portable toilets available to the public.

       

10: Official inaugural balls.

       

  At the inauguration

       

Star-Bulletin reporters B.J. Reyes and Rosemarie Bernardo are attending the inauguration of Barack Obama. Look for their reports throughout this historic event.

       

A decorated World War II veteran, he also was the first congressman from the new state of Hawaii in 1959. He has served in the U.S. Senate long enough to become its third most senior member.

So to asking him to place the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama into a historical context, forces him to recall what we, as a nation, have had to overcome.

He remembers when, as a law student at George Washington University in 1952, he witnessed a newlywed interracial couple get arrested after moving in together in an apartment in Virginia. He remembers his time in World War II, when the military was segregated.

"I recall with some sadness going overseas and seeing white officers clubs," he says. "You know, we're in the same war. We were given orders that we were not to set foot in any one of those, even if we were invited.

"To say historic, for me, is a moving thing."

It is estimated that between 2 million to 4 million people will be on hand Tuesday to witness history. Inouye will be front and center among them.

"It is historic," Inouye adds. "I think it's almost tailored that this man is brilliant, he projects well, he knows how to articulate his thoughts and so you don't start off by having negative thoughts about him.

"I think that it's almost ironic, but he will be able to bring the country together, and many others have tried that."

The historical context is obvious. Obama will become the first black president when he takes the oath of office Tuesday. He also will be the first Hawaii-born president.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who knew Obama's parents in Hawaii and first met "Barry" as a young boy, sees the human side of the inauguration.

"When I think about it, my mind is flooded by thoughts of his father and his mother and him as a little boy and his grandfather, especially his grandfather - I didn't know his grandmother as well," Abercrombie says. "No one could've foreseen such a thing, but as it unfolded, it was clear to me five years ago - when I became reacquainted with him as an adult - it was clear to me that he was something extraordinary and special.

"He was special in the sense that the message he embodied of diversity defining us rather than dividing us was something that was simply going to resonate across the country."

Obama's ascendance to the presidency is only part of the story for Hawaii.

This year, Hawaii's 50th as a state, will also see a Hawaii native, in Inouye, ascend to the most powerful committee chairmanship in the Senate, as he takes over as head of the Appropriations Committee.

"In my case, I suppose one can say I was good at survival," Inouye says, modestly. "I've been around for awhile. I understand the challenge and the burden."

Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, another native son, is set to become Director of the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Obama's Cabinet.

With longtime veteran Sen. Dan Akaka and U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono entering her second term, Hawaii's profile on the national political scene is as high as it has ever been.

"From a historic perspective, from Hawaii, not only is it unprecedented, it's stunning," says Abercrombie.

Certainly at the top is Obama.

In reality, he was the junior senator from Illinois when he made his historic run, but Hawaii has never been far from the picture, and many in the islands embraced him as one of their own.

It was in Hawaii, in the winter of 2006 during his traditional holiday vacation, that a movement in Hawaii began to recruit him to run for the presidency.

"If you run, we will be your feet," was the mantra, and it was symbolized by a staple of life in Hawaii - rubber slippers.

Since he announced his run for the presidency in February 2007, Hawaii has been with him the whole way.

Democrats turned out in record numbers to support him in the party's February caucus, giving him an overwhelming victory over U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Those same Democrats showed up in force again in November to turn away the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin and give the Democratic ticket of Obama and Joe Biden its most decisive victory in any state contest.

"I'm excited because we have a Hawaii-born president," Akaka says. "More important for me - he embodies the power of the aloha spirit. Although it's not really put in words, his actions and his philosophy and his ideas are becoming part of what he's doing.

"When a person like him does that I'm so proud of that because he's really exuding, emanating Hawaii, and this is what this country needs, and the world needs. So it's the beginning of a great century for this Earth."