Notes on the end of the Inouye era

I’ve been trying to come up with my own recollections of Dan Inouye. In fact, I don’t believe I ever met the man except perhaps in passing, and certainly never had a conversation with him. But I’ve lived with the reflection of his position and power through my adult life. His wife taught at University High School when I was there, although I wasn’t in her classes, as I recall. He backed Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam, much to the dismay of a big chunk of my generation.

Repeal the DraftWilliam “Bud” Lampard, a UH professor and the father of a good friend of mine, ran as a peace candidate against Inouye in the 1968 Democratic Primary. That’s Lampard, and his son, Tony, in this photo, sitting in front of a “Repeal the Draft” banner at a 1970 peace rally at UH Manoa.

Although Inouye stepped up to oppose certain uses of U.S. military force, he remained a reliable pro-military vote in the Senate. He played both sides on the issue of Kahoolawe during the 1970s, and consistently deferred to the military and its backers in Washington, as described in this 1978 article in a newsletter of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana.

Inouye’s career had its high points, including his role in the Watergate hearings and the Senate investigation of Iran-Contra. There were also low points, including the Lenore Kwock affair (that drove Inouye’s percentage of the vote to 57%, the lowest point in his Washington career8, before soaring back to 93% in 1998) and his spirited defense of the “Keating 5.”

Inouye was a master of patronage and pork. I dug up a couple of critical stories I’ve done over the years, one from my Hawaii Monitor Newsletter in July 1992, and another written for the Star-Bulletin (“TheBus funds
hijacked for hospital

Perhaps Inouye’s most lasting legacy is the strong base of Native Hawaiian serving agencies built with decades of federal funding. When Democrats realized that the strength of their Japanese American voting block was threatened by demographic trends, Inouye began the long process of patronage politics aimed, at least in part, at building Hawaiians into the Democratic coalition. The result is a strong network of established Native Hawaiian organizations, including nonprofits and for-profit businesses.

14 responses to “Notes on the end of the Inouye era

  1. You may have noted that his mother, an orphan, was raised in a Native Hawaiian family.

  2. Michael in Waikiki

    Never met the man either. Incredible life story for sure. Even if a person is vaguely interested in Hawaii politics you can’t but help be in awe of his immense political power and stature over the years. Now it’s all gone–just like that.

    Mention was made of his former hairdresser. How about his big-island rancher friend?

    Personally, I think Hawaii is facing a very challenging and uncertain future without Dan Inouye in Congress. Face it, the seniority based patronage system is still alive and well in U.S. Senate–and Hawaii’s delegation is starting over at the bottom.

    Looking back, I suppose Hawaii wouldn’t be in this mess if someone much younger than Daniel Akaka would have been groomed for the senate instead.

  3. One topic raised in this post was leftwing opposition to the draft (and to Senator Inouye) during the Viet Nam war. It’s interesting that during more recent times some leftwingers have been agitating for a return of the draft. For example, Congressman Charlie Rangel has repeatedly introduced a bill to reinstate the draft, during the past several sessions of Congress. The theory seems to be that an all-volunteer military results in having a very small percentage of families participating in or directly affected by a war; and therefore it’s hard to drum up popular support for an antiwar movement. By the way, Senator Inouye voted against the Congressional resolution authorizing sending the military to Iraq/Afghanistan. He gave an interesting speech to a local veterans group a couple years ago claiming that his own feelings of guilt for killing and abusing some Germans in WW2 contributed to his desire not to send Americans to Iraq. The video of that speech is available at

  4. I am surprised we are poles apart in our memories and that we live just two islands apart.

    Dan Inouye was a bigger-than-life figure who decentralized this ex-kingdom better than anyone and was the least Oahucentric figure ever.

    He helped to carve out a future not only on Big Island but Maui and Kauai when no one on Oahu had any clue.

    I remember we his “blood on my hands”speech at Hilo’s Mo’oheau Park I covered and reported at a time when the norm as to push on in a senseless conflict. Few seem to have much memory that I regard as a pivotal event.

    Dan Inouye was no saint and he could be accused of overplaying his power in his last years But he was greatest leader of our time, possibly since Kamehameha the Great.

  5. I agree with Hugh. Greatest of he 20th century, for sure.

  6. The “Lenore Kwock affair” was a farce and a fraud. In fact, she later began telling people that she had had an affair with Tom Selleck. There is an interesting sidelight to the story, however: Frank Fasi was running for re-election as a Republican at the time. He was so incensed at Rick Reed for using the Kwock tape with its highly suspect allegations to smear Inouye, he had me draft a statement for him in which he denounced his fellow Republican, Reed, and endorsed the Democrat, Inouye. It was run as a full-page ad in both daily newspapers. We polled over the next several days and found that Frank had lost some eight points in the race for mayor and his lead over his Democratic opponent, Dennis O’Connor, had evaporated. Frank won re-election, but it was a squeaker. In fact, he trailed O’Connor on the first two print-outs. His defense of Dan Inouye was typical of Frank, but it very nearly cost him the election.

  7. When I read online that Senator Inouye had died, my first thought was that he was the last of the class of l962. That was the year when Inouye was elected to the Senate, Tom Gill and Spark Matsunaga to the U.S. House, and Jack Burns to the governorship. I first met Inouye when he was elected to the U.S. House after statehood and I was a reporter for United Press International in Washington with one of my assignments being to cover the Hawaii congressional delegation which at that time was Inouye in the House and Oren Long and Hiram Fong in the Senate. I moved to Hawaii as a reporter for the Star Bulletin and during the l962 campaign the focus of my reporting was the Inouye/Dillingham and the Gill races.
    Several weeks before the election Inouye, Gill and Matsunaga were predicted to be easy victors (and they were) so they combined their campaign efforts and some resources to help Burns defeat incumbent Republican governor Bill Quinn.

    So reading of Inouye’s death gave me a lot of instant and nostalgic recall. For me his passing closed out some fond memories of the class of l962.

  8. I have to declare my agreement with “Michael” (above) regarding the Senates seniority system and our current fragility as a state grown dependent on it. For this circumstance we can hold responsible Sen. Inouye. While he was certainly within his personal rights to protect Sen. Akaka his responsibility to our state should have outweighed his loyalties to the junior senator. To serve with Aloha was a great distinction for the recently retired Akaka, but our state would have been better served by a younger Senator building seniority against this day.
    Now Sen. Inouye has “reached from the grave” to select his replacement, which will likely create a domino effect since the Hanabusa House seat would immediately come into play. A multi-candidate special election is likely, leading to a replacement chosen by a plurality rather than a majority. Charles Dijou again? Or will “Senator” Lingle deign to serve. Either could win a special election, perhaps easily, unlike a general election.
    Neil’s only leverage, in my opinion, to outweigh the anointing of Hanabusa is to reach out for a Hawaiian replacement. I’m sure there is a short list out there. That could leave Hanabusa to build seniority at the House and if she chose to compete for the Senate seat in 2014 then so be it.
    To this point we have not been well served by Sen. Inouye’s (lack of ) succession plan.

    All of that said….Aloha Sen. Inouye. In the sum of things you were by far the best representation our State has ever had. My above observations deal with your aftermath, a consequence of your distinguished career.

  9. I agree with most of the above comments that Senator Inouye was a great man and had a huge influence on Hawaii politics. However, even the greatest actors need to know when to leave the stage. By hanging on so long he has done major damage to Hawaii. At the beginning of this session the state will have two newbe senators with zero seniority. If Hanabusa is appointed to fill Inouye’s shoes, as was his last wish, we will also have two newbe members of the house with zero seniority. With Hirono and Hanabusa both in their 60’s they will never build up the kind of seniority that Inouye had, assuming that they keep getting reelected. Inouye, Akaka and the rest of the democratic party movers and shakers should have sat down 10 years or more years ago and come up with a succession plan. Not having done so, they have doomed Hawaii to decades of little or no clout in congress.

  10. While I was composing my comment Hawaiino was posting one along exactly the same lines. Great minds think alike and I totally agree with him.

  11. Thanks, Jim, I think we all knew Rick Reed to be the biggest fraud of all — then and now.

  12. Members of the Democratic Party of Hawaii State Central Committee will only be able to select the three nominees from those who actually submitted their own applications. If Hanabusa doesn’t submit her own application, her name will not be on the list to be considered.

    I don’t think that Abercrombie will bypass the process.

    Although I am impressed with Hanabusa’s qualifications, I am very concerned about her leaving the US House – unless a strong (real) Democratic candidate is available to take on Djou, Lingle, or Cayetano in the winner-takes-all election which will be held sometime in late February or early March.

    If she does go over to the Senate, she will have given up her two years of House seniority. It’s not much, but if she stays, it will be better for Hawai than having a newly-elected US Representative ranked Number 435 after the special election.

  13. Michael in Waikiki

    HANABUSA is age 61. The U.S. Constitution states that a candidate must be at least 30 years of age.

    As much as we would all love to honor Inouye’s last request, wouldn’t Hawaii’s future generations be better served if a younger candidate closer to age 30 were found as a replacement?

    As in right now–immediately.

    Without mentioning names, I can think of at least three to five credible Hawaii Democrats with proven legislative experience that are between 30-40 years of age.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.