A storied life, a legacy of change


POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unlike the sudden and violent deaths of his three older brothers, the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy had been anticipated since he suffered a seizure in May 2008 from a brain tumor. His public appearances since then, including his campaigning for the election of President Barack Obama, brought recognition to the vast accomplishments of the liberal Lion of the Senate whose effectiveness through compromise was unmatched.

“;America lost a great patriot and a great leader. I lost a good friend,”; said Sen. Daniel Inouye, a colleague of Kennedy for 46 years, beginning two months after the last son of Camelot entered the Senate at the age of 30. To Sen. Daniel Akaka, Kennedy was “;a passionate member”; of the Senate who tried to help other people, especially the less fortunate.

Placed on the road to political leadership by the World War II death of oldest brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. during a bombing mission and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy was seen as lacking their charisma.

He overcame risky behavior and outright misbehavior to deserve praise and admiration. He drank too much and was responsible for the 1969 drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne in a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha's Vineyard, then was late reporting it. The incident proved to have ended his possibility of becoming president.

Acknowledging those limits, Kennedy concentrated on being a productive legislator, a liberal Democrat who teamed up with conservative Republicans such as Utah's Orrin Hatch and Bob Dole.

Surrounded by the accouterments of wealth, Kennedy will be remembered most for his work on behalf of the downtrodden, concentrating on such issues as civil rights, health and nutrition and work safety. He was responsible for the 1990 enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and worked with President George W. Bush to gain passage of No Child Left Behind.

Kennedy's largest contribution to Hawaii's welfare may well have been his leadership in hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee toward enactment of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. The new law phased out federal control of fares, routes and the entry of new commercial airlines, forcing airlines to rely on competitive market forces. A congressional report in 1996 found that, taking inflation into account, airfares declined by 30 percent from 1976 to 1990, with costs declining most on longer-distance routes, making Hawaii vacations affordable to middle-income families.