Late Senator Daniel Akaka Honored on House Floor

April 13, 2018, 11:11 AM HST · Updated April 13, 11:14 AM
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Late Senator Daniel Akaka Honored on House Floor
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US Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa today led a Special Order of speeches on the House floor honoring the late Senator Daniel K. Akaka.

Members of Congress shared their memories and experiences with Senator Akaka, honoring his lifelong legacy of service to Hawaiʻi and the nation.

Honoring Senator Daniel K. Akaka on the House floor today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said:

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“I rise today in memory and in celebration of my friend and mentor, Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka, who took his final breaths exactly one week ago today. I was in Hawai‘i and woke up to a text message from one of his children who let me know that he had passed away around 5 o’clock that last morning. We all took that day to remember him, his life, and think back on the memories we have of how he dedicated his life to serving the people of Hawai‘i and our country: from his service in the U.S. Army during World War II to his years that he spent taking care of our keiki as a public school teacher and a principal, his work in the state, and then serving more than 36 years in the United States Congress.

“He was the first Member of Congress to serve of Native Hawaiian ancestry and made history in many different ways. He is known throughout Hawai‘i for so many reasons, but when you say the word ‘Akaka,’ it is synonymous with aloha because that’s what he represented throughout his life. The warmth, fondness, love and kindness that he shared with everyone made him not known so much as ‘Senator Akaka,’ but as ‘Uncle Danny.’

“He did all of this with his wife, Millie, by his side. Mother of five children, Aunty Millie herself was a force of nature. She was ever present here in Washington with Senator Akaka in his travels and expressed aloha in her own way.

“In everything he did, he put service before self. He truly walked the talk. He carried the spirit of aloha in his heart and at the forefront of his actions. In this last week, the people of Hawai‘i, many people across the country, and our colleagues here in Washington have been sharing their own personal stories about how Senator Akaka touched and inspired their lives, the legacy that he left behind, and the example that he set with his life. The central theme in each of these stories always comes back to aloha, which means kindness, respect, and love for others, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, or anything else.

“To this day, here in the Capitol, I’ll bump into some his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate, those he served with in the U.S. House, and as soon as you mention his name you can see their shoulders fall, their stress fall away, and a smile appears on their faces as they think about their time serving with him. They have little stories about a CODEL they went on with him or a Committee they served on with him, and they always talk about how kind he was. No matter who you were, no matter what was going on around you, he always took that moment to share the warmth of his own heart with yours. These stories even come from those who disagreed with him, and from those who fought him the hardest on his signature bill, the ‘Akaka Bill.’ Even if they opposed his policies, none of them had anything ill to say of him. This speaks to the impact that he left on the United States Capitol, on Washington, on this country, and on Hawai‘i. It speaks to the legacy that he leaves behind that will continue to inspire leaders of our country, leaders in our community, and people everywhere to serve in that same spirit of aloha with respect for everyone.

“After I returned home from my first deployment to Iraq with the Hawai‘i National Guard, I had the privilege of working in Senator Akaka’s office as a Legislative Aide. He was the Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and I felt this was a great opportunity to help him to reform and change our VA and how our veterans are cared for. In particular, the post-9/11 Veterans who are the large number of National Guard and Reservists who were activated to serve in the Middle East and were not being treated with the respect, honor, and dignity that they had earned through their service. His work included everything from the GI Bill to VA services and qualifications that they earned. I was able to experience firsthand the impact that he made and his example of Aloha: taking the time as he was rushing to a Committee or to vote to stop and say hello to the janitor who was mopping the floor, to visitors who were coming from Hawai‘i and other states, to stop and talk to the staff and ask how they were doing, how was their family, how were things going. He invested in building lifelong relationships because he understood how important every individual is and he wanted to take advantage of that moment to share his aloha. He recognized that only by working together through aloha can we make real, positive change.

“For those of us who had the opportunity to work with Senator Akaka, either in his office in Washington, in Hawai‘i, on one of his campaigns, or in some other capacity, we’ve bonded over the years. Every year, we got together with Senator Akaka, his wife, and his family to celebrate his birthday in September. This past September, I spent some time with him and, as he always does, he asked how things were going in Washington. He expressed his sadness about how divisive things have become, how the kind of collegiality and respect that existed when he was serving in the U.S. Senate that allowed people to disagree without being disagreeable, that allowed people to debate strongly on issues, but come together at the end of the day to find a solution, has largely been lost. As a result, we are seeing the gridlock and the divisiveness and the lack of results, the lack of delivery to our constituents, in large part because of a lack of aloha. This respect has largely been lost. He has always spoken about how aloha is the solution.

“As we remember Senator Akaka’s legacy of service and aloha, the best way that we can honor his life is by doing our best to live aloha in his example—serving others, to protect our planet, and finding common ground where we can. Even though we disagree on certain issues, there will be others that we agree on: fighting for justice, fighting for equality, and fighting for peace. He was a courageous leader. I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve my constituents in Hawai‘i in the same congressional seat that he once held. I will forever be inspired by his friendship and the life that he lived. Mahalo nui loa to his wife, Aunty Millie, and to his entire family for sharing him with us. Thank you to Uncle Danny, for sharing your aloha with the world. You will be missed. A hui hou.”

Text of Congresswoman Hanabusa’s remarks: (Click here for video)

 (“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the memory of my dear friend and former colleague, Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka.

“For 36 years, Senator Akaka represented Hawaiʻi in the Congress of the United States. He was the first person of Native Hawaiian descent to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“A 22-year veteran of that body, he chaired the Committee on Veterans Affairs, Committee on Indian Affairs, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Government Management, and was a senior member of the Senate Committees on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and Armed Services.

“Prior to serving in the Senate, he proudly represented Hawaiʻi’s 2nd Congressional District for 14 years in this chamber.

“He fought, with humility and respect, for his beloved home state of Hawaiʻi and its people.

“A relentless champion of Native Hawaiians and indigenous people, he advocated for increased access to healthcare, education and economic opportunity. He worked to secure recognition and benefits for veterans.

“Before pursuing elected office, he served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II.

“He used the G.I. Bill to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Hawaiʻi before teaching math, music, social studies and serving as a principal.

“He would later transition into state government as the Director of the Hawaiʻi Office of Economic Opportunity, focusing on policies and programs to help alleviate poverty.

“Senator Akaka’s service and Congressional contributions are numerous and distinguished.

“He embodied the Aloha spirit, and his kindness and empathy is his greatest legacy.

“Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to articulate how much he means to the people of Hawaiʻi.

“Senator Akaka represented everything that is and could be good, in all of us. He saw the best in everyone and never had a bad word to say about anyone.

“If you were fortunate to meet with him, as I was humbled to do so on many occasions, you walked away feeling better about yourself and the world, your spirit refreshed and refocused.

“He preached that kindness and Aloha must never be sacrificed to get things done. We do not need to emulate the aggressive brinksmanship and bullying that too often define our policy debates.

“Senator Akaka embraced bipartisanship and knew that if we could empathize with those we disagreed with, we were that much closer to a compromise.

“Toward the end of his service in the Senate he remarked, “I feel that since I came here, one of the things I’ve tried to do – and done it as much as I can – was to bring about a feeling here, of a spirit, that comes from Hawaiʻi, that we call Aloha spirit, because it opens things up, it cuts down fences, it helps people to feel the need to work with each other.”

“Whenever deciding how to vote, it wasn’t about looking to the left or the right, but what was inside his heart. He recalled many instances in which he disagreed or voted differently than his friends but he never let a policy difference impact a friendship.

“Always the school teacher, he was a stickler for grammar and punctuation, Senator Akaka mentored generations of public servants.

“In every office of the Hawaiʻi delegation you will find the Senator’s staff, carrying on his mission.

“One of his former legislative assistants is now my colleague in the house, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

“My Legislative Director, Elizabeth Songvilay and Military Legislative Assistant, Dan Kouchi, were fortunate to work for Senator.

“Liz shared a story, one of many that live on, about how the Senator and Aunty Millie managed the annual Senate ice cream reception.

“They insisted that the entire office, including committee staff, go with them into the Senators only section, where members and their immediate family were served with no lines.

“Aunty Millie would walk in and tell everyone the staff was her and Senator Akaka’s grandkids.

“He maintained one of the most diverse offices on the Hill which usually included people of all races who definitely did not look like they were related to the Akakas.

“That was Senator, always generous and striving for equality. There was no special line for Senators. He considered everyone he ever worked with his partner and equal.

“Mr. Speaker, I will forever be grateful for what Senator Akaka meant to me as a friend and mentor. I was humbled and honored to have his support.

“I urge my colleagues to honor the Senator’s legacy by committing to bipartisan leadership and civil discourse but, most importantly, by living with Aloha.

“Thank you Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.”

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