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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

Democrats call Obama Hawai'i's 'third senator'

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The state's Democrats fawned over newly elected Illinois Sen. Barack Obama at a fund-raiser last night, proudly embracing him as Hawai'i's "third senator."

Hawai'i-born U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a Punahou graduate, says his local ties mean that "there's no doubt that I'm going to be sympathetic to certain issues that face the Hawaiian Islands — the situation regarding Native Hawaiians ... the environ-ment and how that impacts the treasure that is Hawai'i."

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

For his part, the Hawai'i-born civil rights attorney and lecturer-turned-political celebrity told reporters: "Obviously, my primary responsibility is to the people of Illinois who elected me, but there's no doubt that I'm going to be sympathetic to certain issues that face the Hawaiian Islands — the situation regarding Native Hawaiians, the situation regarding the environment and how that impacts the treasure that is Hawai'i."

Obama, a Punahou graduate, went from relative obscurity as an Illinois state senator to becoming one of the nation's most talked-about politicians this year on his way toward capturing a U.S. Senate seat last month.

Asked if he would support the so-called Akaka Bill, which would recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with the right to self-determination, Obama said he is scheduled to meet with the bill's sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, to discuss the proposal.

About 850 people attended the $100-a-ticket "A Night of Aloha With Sen. Barack Obama," scores of whom lined up to have their copies of his autobiography signed, take a picture with him or shake his hand. Proceeds from last night's fund-raiser were to be split between the Democratic Party of Hawai'i and Obama's Senate campaign committee.

Catherine Adams, a 49-year-old nurse administrator, traveled from Lihu'e, Kaua'i, to have her book autographed. Adams said she was deeply moved as she watched on TV Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, an event that catapulted the Harvard-educated attorney into the political limelight.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., center, held a press conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with Brickwood Galuteria, left, head of the Hawai'i Democratic Party, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I found what he had to say quite inspirational," Adams said. "That the dreams and aspirations of the common person can lead to greatness."

During his remarks, Obama said he visits Hawai'i annually to see his grandmother and his sister and her family.

"The essence of Hawai'i has always been that we come from far and wide, that we come from different backgrounds and different faiths and different last names, and yet we come together as a single 'ohana because we believe in the fundamental commonality of people," Obama said. "We have a sense that beneath the surface of things, all of us share a common set of hopes, a common set of dreams and a common set of values. That's what the Islands have always been about."

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who knew Obama's parents before he was born, was moved to tears while introducing him. In remarks before the speech, Abercrombie joked, "Hawai'i is the only state now with three senators."

It was a description that others, including Akaka, also used to describe Obama. "I like to think of him as a member of our delegation," said Akaka.

Obama, 43, hit the national spotlight earlier this year when he went from longshot candidate for a Republican-held Senate seat to overwhelming favorite after key opponents dropped out. He has been mentioned as a potential member of the 2008 Democratic presidential ticket, a prospect that Obama has ridiculed.

Obama is only the third black senator in U.S. history. He was born in Honolulu and spent much of his youth here.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.