Inouye's longevity benefits isles, nation


POSTED: Saturday, October 24, 2009

At age 85, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye reached a milestone this month by having served in Congress longer than all but two other senators in history. He showed at the same time that he remains active and assertive, most recently playing an important role in the holding of a runoff election for president of Afghanistan.

Inouye, who became a U.S. House member on the day Hawaii became a state in 1959, has been a senator for nearly 47 years, exceeding the Senate presence of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. He follows only Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., and the late Sen Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in career longevity by senators.

Inouye became nationally prominent after being coaxed in 1973 by then-Majority Leader Mike Mansfield to serve on the Senate Watergate Committee, a service Inouye regards as one his most memorable experiences.

For many years, he has been recognized as effective in bringing federal dollars to Hawaii, but he also has been an active player in other political activities.

;  This year, Inouye became chairman of the Appropriations Committee after Byrd, history's longest-serving senator, was forced to give up the chairmanship. Byrd has been frail in the past year, in and out of the hospital and voting rarely from his wheelchair.

Asked about passing Kennedy's tenure, Inouye told Roll Call newspaper, “;I'm not celebrating that day because I'm too busy to do that. I think it's an achievement, to think that I've lasted that long.”;

Inouye spent several days in Afghanistan this month, visiting Hawaii-based troops and meeting with commanding Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Inouye's arrival in Afghanistan preceded a series of meetings between Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Inouye had told Karzai that he must address government corruption and election abuses, according to Politico newspaper and Web site.

“;I didn't go all the way there to be nice,”; Inouye told Politico. He said he told Karzai, “;When I mention Afghanistan to one of my colleagues, the next word that comes to mind is 'corruption.' And when you mention 'corruption' and 'Afghanistan' together, they talk about your brother.”;

Karzai's younger brother has denied reports about his alleged involvement in the heroin trade or election fraud.

Following what Politico described as the “;good cop, bad cop”; roles played by Kerry and Inouye, Karzai agreed on Tuesday to a runoff election in November.

Longevity is valuable for Inouye — and Hawaii — not only in his justifiability to lay claim as “;the No. 1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress,”; as he described himself in August. His extensive experience in high office has enabled him to play a key role in national defense and other issues.