Akaka’s Decades of Service Praised, Successor Speculation Begins

March 3, 2011, 10:00 AM HST · Updated March 3, 11:49 AM
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By Wendy Osher

After more than three decades of service, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka will retire from office and return to Hawaii upon completion of his current term in 2012. The announcement came yesterday and quickly drew comment from colleagues and political comrades who praised the long-time Senator for his service to the state.

“Danny spent his career fighting for our troops, veterans and their families and for the rights of Native Hawaiians,” said President Barack Obama, who joined his wife and first lady, Michelle in saying Mahalo to Sen. Akaka. “His voice in the Senate will be missed,” said President Obama.

The news also drew speculation over who will succeed Sen. Akaka in two years. Names that have surfaced as possible contenders include former Governor Linda Lingle, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, current U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, among others. None have stepped forward with confirmation, preferring instead to offer praise to Sen. Akaka for a job well done.

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“For the past 35 years, Senator Akaka has been a powerful advocate for the people of Hawaii. I am grateful for his life of service to Hawaii and our nation. As to whether I will seek the Senate seat, it is premature for me to make such a decision. I am concentrating on the work at hand: creating jobs and supporting middle class families,” said Congresswoman Hirono, who represents the 2nd Congressional District that includes Maui.

“We will miss his understanding hand, wise counsel and gentlemanly demeanor when he retires,” said Hannemann this morning. “While some may be curious, there will be plenty of time to discuss my own personal plans in light of his announcement. Today, however, is a day to sing Senator Akaka’s praises. And there is much to sing about,” said Hannemann.

As America’s first Senator of Native Hawaiian ancestry, Akaka spent the last 11 years pushing for passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act that outlines a process for establishing a Native Hawaiian governing entity. Many are monitoring the Akaka Bill to see if the Senator’s vision for Native Hawaiian Recognition will be realized before his exit from Washington.

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie also released a statement expressing gratitude for the years of service Sen. Akaka has given to the state saying, “His soul is one with Hawai’i. His love for Hawai’i and ours for him is as one. He is a true son of Hawai’i that we welcome back home with hearts full of the aloha that is Daniel Akaka. The words aloha and Akaka are interchangeable. Daniel Akaka is Hawai’i,” said Gov. Abercrombie.

Sen. Akaka was first elected to the U.S. House in 1976, where he served 13 years. He was later appointed to the U.S. Senate upon the passing of Senator Spark Matsunaga. Akaka subsequently won election to office in 1990, and re-election in 1994, 2000, and 2006. He will have served nearly 22 years in the Senate when his current term ends in 2012.

Looking to the future, Sen. Akaka said that he plans to return to Hawaii to spend time with his family, document his life and career, and mentor future political leaders of the state.

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