author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Birthdays prompt a
little senatorial speculation

Among the 50 senatorial delegations in Washington, the Hawaii duo has the highest combined age.

This fall our senators will be octogenarians. Dan Inouye will be 80 on Sept. 7. Then, on Nov. 11, Dan Akaka also will turn 80.

With decades of experience in Washington, both Democrats already have created enviable legacies. Inouye is the third most senior member of the Senate. Akaka has 14 years in the Senate, compared to Inouye's 42.

Regarded as one of the genuinely nice people in Hawaii politics, Akaka's warmth, open affection and politeness make him a beloved member of the Democratic Party, just as Inouye's work ethic and drive have made him an indispensable leader for the state and protector of Hawaii.

"Inouye takes a kind of proprietary interest in the public policy of his home area, with a sense of responsibility for its long-term development and character," says the National Journal in a profile of Inouye.

As valuable, well liked and powerful as the two men are, the one thing they cannot control is a successor. But in interviews, Inouye, who boasts of a shining medical report and likes to talk about not just his current re-election campaign but also the one in 2010, has started to acknowledge that someday, "I may not be around."

Since surgeries to replace both knees and his right hip, Akaka follows a physical therapy regime that would make a college athlete wince. He also must decide if he will launch future campaigns.

How the two will be replaced is the biggest unanswered question today in Hawaii politics. A natural assumption following past practice would be for the two congressmen to run for Senate. But both have records that make that less than a sure bet.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who will be 66 in June, has earned 14 years seniority in the House. All that time in grade would be put at risk if he ran for a Senate seat. If he won, Hawaii would trade those years of House seniority and the power they bring for the lesser clout of a freshman senator.

Rep. Ed Case, who will be 52 in September, is finishing his first term. Dedicated and determined, Case would seem to be the natural Democrat to go to the Senate, but he is so disliked by the politically powerful public worker unions that when he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, the Hawaii Government Employees Association endorsed both of his opponents, a decidedly strong message that Case is not the labor candidate.

If Case and Abercrombie were to leave their posts for a Senate race, it would free their seats, which would trigger a free-for-all by both Republicans and Democrats. Because state or county politicians would not have to resign their offices to run for a federal seat, it would not be unreasonable to see at least a half-dozen members of the Legislature and City Council running.

Far in the future, Governor Lingle is a possible Senate candidate, but meanwhile the speculation and the possible realignments make for some of the best "what if" discussions of the year.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at


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