Maui News

VIDEO: Maui Impact of Two Senior US Senator Vacancies

December 25, 2012, 3:29 PM HST
* Updated December 26, 9:20 AM
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Mayor Alan Arakawa. Photo by Wendy Osher.

[flashvideo file=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YplQg4n9Nzw /] By Wendy Osher

Below is text of an interview conducted with Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa on Monday, Dec. 24, as he reflects on the contributions of the late US Senator Daniel Inouye, and the anticipated impact that his passing will have in Maui County.

AA: Senator Inouye was one of the nicest persons you could ever get to know, and he really truly cared about the community–so much so that he dedicated his entire life to providing for the state of Hawai’i. Fifty years in elected office–much of it at the US Senate to the point where he became the senior member of the US Senate–that kind of person is irreplaceable.

I don’t ever believe we’ll have anyone that will be able to duplicate (that).  The senator had this unique ability to be able to predict what the community’s needs were, and where he could best influence the community. When we needed an economic engine he looked at the tech park and creating the super computer. 

On the Big Island, he created the pharmaceutical college; the East-West Center on O’ahu; brought in the Barking Sands military installation; beefed up Pearl Harbor, and all of the military ships that are there, and kept the fleet going. He was able to help the University of Hawai’i and built much of the campus; our MEDB, Maui Economic Development Board–virtually all of the programs that they have, have some kind of help from the senator. Our observatory at Haleakala, and all of science city there, has had help from the senator.

That kind of a person, with that kind of foresight that he had to be able to envision where the communities needed to go, will be irreplaceable. 

From a technical standpoint, the legislature at the United States Level, is based on seniority. Because Senator Inouye was a senior senator, he was able to get on virtually any committee he wanted to get to. He was very instrumental on being on the appropriations committee, and being on the armed forces committee–the committees that would make a real impact for the state of Hawai’i, and give him the ability to be able to bring projects to Hawai’i.

We are going to be going from having two senators (because Senator Akaka retired also) [to none with seniority].  We have Mazie Hirono who has zero seniority because she was just elected. Whoever replaces Senator Inouye will have zero seniority. In the House of Representatives, Tulsi Gabbard–brand new, zero seniority. Colleen Hanabusa has four years. When you look at our capability of having major influence, and being put on the right committees, it’s in all probability not going to happen.

The senator’s uncanny ability to be able to shift money to Hawai’i and to get all of these major projects going–you know, H3, we could talk on and on, virtually every major economic engine that was created, had the senator’s hand in it. New people will not be able to have that capability. What we don’t want to have, is we don’t want to have a situation like this occurring, because we’re going to have to build seniority–we really need someone in the [US] Senate that can be there long enough to gain 30, 40, 50, years of seniority.

With Mazie Hirono who’s in her 60s, in all probability, by the time she retires, even at 90, she will have only 30 years of seniority–which would be sort of middle-ish, and then retiring would mean we start from zero again. We want to be able to create a cycle whereby we have seniority all the time, or the ability to have at least one of our legislators with good seniority, while the other one is being groomed as a new legislator. That’s the scenario we need to be able to create, and it’s going to be very difficult in this climate that we have to gauge seniority for at least 20 to 30 years.

MN: Knowing that going forward, what is Maui doing to prepare.  Is there any action being taken to save money, or re-prioritize projects?

AA: This has been very, very sudden for everybody in the state, and no one was expecting to lose both senators at the same time.  We are going to have to go back and reevaluate our positions–which programs are likely to still be funded because the senator’s votes carries on; and which programs are likely to not receive funding.

We also have to analyze in the future, how much lobbying we’re going to have to do at the US Senate and House to be able to get funding; and what kind of grants we can apply for.

So, we’re going to have to be much more meticulous in our job to be able to try and at least recover partially some of the funding that we’re going to be losing because the senator’s influence is no longer there. It’s going to take a lot of really hard work to do that.

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