by Andrew Walden
With the Gubernatorial race coming down to the wire, the Washington Post has just published a six page interview with Senator Dan Inouye in which he says absolutely nothing about Neil Abercrombie’s campaign. Abercrombie beat Inouye’s favored candidate Mufi Hannemann in the September 18th Democratic Primary. Is Inouye repeating the same strategy which places personal loyalty above party loyalty and was so helpful to the election of Republican Charles Djou in the May Special Election?
The interview begins with a clear outline of the Dan Inouye political economy and its seemingly unshakable grip on Hawaii—but Inouye is unmistakably looking back on the past:
…Inouye is the last of a generation of old Senate lions. And he knows it.
As he stepped out onto the balcony of his Waikiki apartment a few hours after the Pearl Harbor ceremony and surveyed the Diamond Head volcano's gray crater and the whitewashed skyline built with his earmark dollars, he reflected on his new senior status in the Senate.
"The facts of life would tell you," Inouye said, "that it is the final stop."
This year, Inouye cost his party a seat in the House when he undermined the preferred candidate of the national Democratic Party and White House, because the upstart had dared to challenge Inouye's authority…. (Djou would have won anyway, but lets set that aside for a moment.)
The senator's schedule during his campaign sweep in Hawaii was filled with visits to schools and entire towns built with federal dollars that he had delivered. Included on his itinerary: a visit to the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, which was founded 15 years ago with $10 million secured by the senator. The center was celebrating a new wing built with an additional $12 million obtained by Inouye. The center's new dean, Lauren Kahea Moriarty, a retired U.S. ambassador, is the daughter of a former close aide of Inouye's.
"In certain circles," said Inouye, grinning in his apartment as he lifted a water glass off a U.S. Senate coaster, "I'm the godfather."
During a visit to the Big Island last year, Inouye happily called himself "the number one earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress." According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in fiscal 2010, Inouye secured $392,432,850 in earmark spending, 25.3 percent of which went to campaign contributors. That means he sent more money to political supporters than any other senator. The watchdog group makes a distinction for earmarks of which a senator is the sole sponsor. In that category, Inouye brought back $204,953,950 in 2010, the highest amount in the Senate except for Byrd….
Inouye plugs Colleen Hanabusa’s flagging campaign, but with absentee voting to begin in a week, Inouye says not a single word about Neil Abercrombie’s gubernatorial contest:
Hanabusa is Inouye's chosen candidate in the state's upcoming U.S. House showdown. Her candidacy also offers a case study in how he wields clout.
When Rep. Neil Abercrombie (this is the only time Abercrombie comes up in the entire article) abandoned his seat to run for governor this year, Democratic leaders in Washington determined that the strongest candidate to replace him was former congressman Ed Case. Even the White House suggested as much. But in 2006, Case had challenged Hawaii's junior senator, Daniel Akaka, against Inouye's wishes. The slight wasn't forgotten, said sources close to Inouye, and motivated the senator's decision to back Hanabusa. As a result, the Democratic vote split and a Republican, Charles Djou, won the seat.
Hanabusa, now the Democratic candidate to replace Djou, knows where she'd be without the support of "Senator," as she calls him. (Hanabusa is behind by double digits.)
"It would be disastrous," she said, adding that the party officials tasked with electing Democrats remained furious with Inouye.
So too is Case.
"He's compelled for reasons not clear to me to run Hawaii as his own personal fiefdom," said the former congressman, who is nevertheless supporting Inouye's reelection. "It was more important that I not be elected than that Djou not be elected."
"Politically he is very influential in the state," Djou said. "But does that mean he should be allowed to own the state, does that mean he should be allowed to dictate whatever his whim or fancy may be on the electorate?"
…it sometimes seems that the state is run by a diaspora of former Inouye staffers. They sit on the boards of the largest corporations. They are mayors and top lobbyists and university officials.
"Like the sun is to the solar system," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, a former legislative assistant for Inouye, "he is to our state." (Caldwell lost to Pete Carlisle.)
Clearly Inouye is continuing the strategy of personal loyalty over party loyalty which Ed Case outlined so succinctly. In an earlier Washington Post interview, September 15 Inouye minced no words about the gubernatorial race:
…it was clear from the beginning which candidate had the backing of the state's resident political king, senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, and his political machine.
"I have my personal preferences," said Inouye, who added in an interview that (Mufi) Hannemann was a familiar presence in his office over the years and was "in a way" family. "I just don't ignore friends," the 86-year-old eminence said. As for all the years he worked with Abercrombie in Washington, Inouye said that the two were essentially strangers. "
Dan Inouye doesn’t ignore friends. And in today’s Washington post interview, Dan Inouye most definitely ignored “stranger” Neil Abercrombie. In the September 15 Washington Post article, Neil Abercrombie predicted that Republican Lt Governor Duke Aiona will win as a result of a logic similar to that which helped Djou:
Abercrombie draws parallels between this year's contest and a 1986 House race that he lost to Hannemann, who ran a negative campaign depicting Abercrombie as a weed-toking hippy from the mainland. That bitterness made an opening for a Republican to take the seat. "Now he is doing the same thing and it's going to have the same kind of result," Abercrombie said, adding, "He hasn't changed and people recognize that."
Abercrombie was talking about Mufi Hannemann, but he might just as well have been talking about Inouye.
Ironically the Senator who did so much to make Hawaii a one-party state may end his career by reconstituting the two party system.
WaPo: Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii's reigning son
TOTALLY RELATED: Kauai Mayor Carvalho refuses to endorse Abercrombie
HA: Rift between Abercrombie and Inouye
HFP: Abercrombie predicts Duke Aiona will be next governor
HFP: Rothenberg: Democratic poll shows Djou ahead by double digits