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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Playing politics with Mink

 •  Special election set for rest of Mink's term
 •  Mink remembered in D.C.
 •  Lingle, Hirono adjust campaign plans
 •  Read tributes and condolences for Patsy Mink
 •  Send your tributes, condolences
 •  A photo retrospective

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

It's a delicate subject, to say the least. But the ones handling it most indelicately are the ones who are crying foul the loudest.

Hawai'i Democratic party leaders have reacted with shock and indignation at questions that suggest political maneuvering played a part in the timing of the announcement of Patsy Mink's death.

There has been ample material for conspiracy theorists to piece together a plausible plot, starting with the almost total blackout of information on Mink's condition from the day she was admitted to the hospital. This kind of secrecy surrounding the ability of a member of the U.S. Congress to do her job is extraordinary, especially when our country's leaders are talking about going to war and particularly when there's an election at hand.

Voters went to the polls on primary election day not knowing if Mink was able to continue to serve. Her family said nothing. The hospital said nothing. But colleague U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, speaking more as a Democrat concerned about the election than a representative for the family, assured Hawai'i that Mink was on the road to recovery.

When the somber news finally came that Mink's prospects for recovery were poor, it came not from her family or even her staff. It came from the director of the Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign, the organization that is overseeing all the Democrats' political campaigns in Hawai'i.

Just the day before, Hawai'i Democratic Party Chairwoman Lorraine Akiba told the media that Mink was recuperating and that, "she wants to fulfill her candidacy." In retrospect, Akiba's statement sure seems more like an attempt at spin than an expression of hope. In any case, it wasn't true.

Hawai'i Democrats are the ones who are saying "this week is a time to remember Patsy Mink and her legacy" and not to talk about politics, yet they're the very ones who are mixing up her legacy with their agenda.

U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye has called for voters to cast their general election ballots for Mink as a way to honor her. If that doesn't bring politics into what should be a dignified memorial of a strong woman, what does? Just the idea of campaigning for a politician who has passed away is a most indelicate thing to imagine.

Patsy Mink was, by all accounts, a person of principle who had little tolerance for game-playing within her party. Patsy Mink was a straight-shooter. She was an independent thinker. It's hard to imagine that she would approve of the Democrats' handling and mishandling of information about her ability to serve in the hopes of controlling an election. Instead of worrying so much about holding on to Patsy Mink's seat in Congress, Democrats should try harder to hold on to Patsy Mink's values.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.