Inouye, Akaka must give up posts
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
The shift in power will force Inouye to give up the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Indian Affairs and the Defense appropriations subcommittee. But as the senior Democrat on these committees, Inouye said yesterday that he feels he can still be an influential lawmaker.
"A few hours ago I was the chairman of the committee, now I'm not," Inouye said. "I've been there when we've had changes of this nature. I've served under Trent Lott. I've served under Howard Baker. So it's not a new experience."
Inouye, 78, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and is the third most senior member of the Senate. As head of the Defense appropriations subcommittee, he oversaw defense spending and construction; during his seven terms, he has brought billions of dollars to the military in Hawai'i.
Inouye said his influence isn't likely to change even though he no longer heads that committee.
"If you ask most people, especially the military, they won't be able to tell you when we've had changes in the chairmanship,"
Inouye said. "Sen. Ted Stevens and I have been working very closely for 30 years now and we just exchange chairs, that's all.
Stevens, R-Alaska, the ranking member of the committee, will likely assume the chairmanship.
Committee leaders have one of the most coveted roles because they have more authority to shape legislation and decide which bills reach the Senate floor for a vote.
Inouye has become a national advocate for Native Americans and has relished the job of chairman. But he has also formed a close working relationship with the vice chairman, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., who is now in line for the chairmanship.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, will have to give up two subcommittee chairmanships one on military readiness and the other on international security, proliferation and federal services. An aide to Akaka said the senator regrets losing the posts but works well with the Republicans likely to replace him.
On the local political front, Inouye said he didn't view Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono's defeat by Linda Lingle in the governor's race as a setback for the Democratic Party. He pointed to the party's continued dominance in both the state House and Senate as an example of its strength.
"Considering the fact that the Republican Party was able to spend at least three times the amount Democrats spent, we did very well," Inouye said. "I tell my friends, 'Be of good cheer. There's always a tomorrow.'"
Inouye yesterday also wished the best for Lingle. "I know I speak for most Democrats that we are prepared to help her, to cooperate because, after all, this is our home, too," he said.