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The Inouye Legacy

What he’s doing now to ensure Hawaii’s future

(page 1 of 4)

Dan Inouye, now 85, says he will run for another six-year
Senate term in 2010. Photo: Mark Arbeit

Sen. Daniel Ken Inouye has long been Hawaii’s most powerful and influential individual, a man who has brought billions of dollars into his home state and forged or supported industries in astronomy, high-technology, the military complex, research, agriculture and education.

Critics complain that Inouye is a master of earmarking budget items and pork- barrel spending, in effect wasting national resources on parochial issues. But Hawaii’s senior senator brushes off such criticism, even brags about his mastery of the earmarking process. He argues that every one of his projects can stand the litmus test – as important both for Hawaii and for the nation.

On a recent visit home, Inouye told an audience on the Big Island, “I’m the No. 1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress.” That remark produced a round of tongue-clicking and commentary from groups who seek to control government spending and stifle earmarks. Whether Inouye is No. 1 or not depends on how you measure things.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group focused on the influence of money on politics, Inouye ranks No. 5 in total Senate earmarks secured in fiscal 2009. His $450.5 million puts him behind Sens. Thad Cochran, Roger Wicker, Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley. Hawaii’s junior senator, Daniel Akaka, was way down the list.

But those are total earmarks, including earmarks co-sponsored by more than one member of Congress. In solo earmarks, Inouye is indeed near the top at $220.7 million, far higher than any other member of the Senate save Robert Byrd, his predecessor as chair of the Appropriations Committee.

This is nothing new. From the moment of his first election to Congress right after Statehood in 1959, Inouye has been a one-man industry for his home. Inouye, who entered the Senate after the 1962 election, is currently the second most senior senator, after Byrd, and the third oldest, behind Byrd and Frank Lautenberg.

But Inouye downplays the suggestion that he alone is a key economic player for Hawaii and that the state will be in dire straits when he retires. “I hope that’s not the case,” he says soberly when presented with that proposition.

Yet other leaders, some of whom started their political careers in his Washington office, see Inouye in a dominant and crucial role.eit

“He is probably one of the state’s largest industries right now,” says Kirk Caldwell, managing director for the City and County of Honolulu. “He’s a growth industry at a time nothing else is growing.”

Walter Dods, former CEO of First Hawaiian Bank and a close confidante of Inouye’s for decades, calls him “our biggest secret weapon.”

“Over the past dozen years or so, he has really looked to help Hawaii once he ultimately leaves the Senate,” says Dods, who recently chaired a campaign that raised more than a million dollars for the senator’s war chest.

“His legacy has been that he has always been out there ahead, trying to fund projects that have a lasting impact.

“There’s a method to his madness,” Dods continues. “Without him, we would be in deep kim chee.”

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

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Oct 8, 2009 06:34 pm
 Posted by  Kristine Kubat

Your article on Senator Inouye is pure unabashed campaigning for a figure who is far more controversial than you are willing to admit. Why didn't you interview people who disapprove of his style of politics and his iron grip on local politics? Why didn't you include commentary from people who understand the economic disaster he has created here? It is outsiders who profit most from his lavish spending sprees while forcing the native born down on the socio-economic ladder. Because of his grand plan we are painfully dependent on imported goods and little more than a welfare state at a time when we should be leading the world in the quest for sustainability. Shame on you!

Jan 12, 2010 09:20 am
 Posted by  meg

To make comments is easy; to implement work is a heavy duty.
Caldwell was true on Senator Inouye's deep concern for the underdog group who do not receive the attention or services they deserve.
Giving time for righteousness to the helpless is a vocation in itself. It is a grace only GOD can bestow upon man. It pushes man to have compassion to people who need help.
I am a mother of a Gulf War Veteran likened to a chewing gum spitted to garbage whom he fought for justice, righteousness and equity

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