Akaka rejects Time list calling him one of 5 'worst senators'
By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau
By Dennis Camire
WASHINGTON — This week's Time magazine lists U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka as one of the five worst members of the Senate.
Akaka, who faces a primary challenge this year from U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, said Time's judgment was unfair and questioned the basis for the magazine's analysis.
"Akaka is living proof that experience does not necessarily yield expertise," said Time, which also listed its 10 best senators. "After 16 years on the job, the junior senator from Hawai'i is a master of the minor resolution and the bill that dies in committee."
Akaka, 81, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in response: "I have worked as a team player on our (Democratic) side as well as on the other (Republican) side for the good of the country. I have passed bills that have made a huge difference not only in Hawai'i but in our country."
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Akaka has not been a visible senator, more like a home-state senator, while U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, is the national senator.
"I certainly wouldn't rate Akaka anywhere near the top of the U.S. Senate," Sabato said. "He would have a hard time making the middle. Whether he's the absolute worst, I think that's purely subjective."
Time said its selection was based on interviews with academics, political scientists and current and former senators.
Time noted that Akaka sponsored a few resolutions in the 2003-04 Congress, including ones that created Financial Literacy for Youth Month and commended civil servants.
Of the 29 bills Akaka sponsored, only three became law, Time said. Those changed a national park boundary, set up a training program for postmasters and named a post office.
Akaka got a resolution passed 13 years ago by which the United States apologized for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, but has struggled recently to move another bill that would give federal recognition to Native Hawaiians, Time said.
Jennifer E. Duffy, an analyst with The Cook Political Report, said Akaka has worked in the shadow of Inouye and that Akaka's interests seem to be more parochial.
"He is known for one bill (the Native Hawaiian bill) that he is trying very hard to get passed and, in fact, seems to be hanging his renomination on," she said. "While the bill is extremely important to Hawai'i, is that the sum of a career? It does pigeonhole him."
Akaka said he has sponsored a number of bills that have made a difference to Hawai'i and the nation. Among those were legislation creating a home loan program for Native American veterans, a program for financial literacy education as part of the No Child Left Behind Act and tax breaks for making ethanol out of sugar cane.
Noting his 16 years in the Senate and 14 years previously in the House, Akaka said the final analysis on his job performance will come from the state's voters.
"For somebody to look at whatever records they looked at and say I'm the worst, that is something I think they have to convince the people of Hawai'i about," Akaka said. "I look upon that as giving me confidence in that I'm really not the worst."
Citing prior commitments, Akaka did not appear at a Hawai'i Pacific University "dialogue" with Case yesterday in Honolulu, so Akaka was not present when the Time article came up.
John Hart, HPU assistant dean of the College of Communication, first raised the issue, asking Case about his own record in getting major legislation passed.
Case resisted the comparison and noted that it is exceedingly rare for a U.S. House member with little experience to have his name attached to major legislation.
"It's a little different comparing three years as a junior member of the minority party in the U.S. House against 30 years as a member of both the majority and the minority party" in Congress, he said. "I think after 30 years there should be a couple of markers along the way to indicate national leadership."
Reach Dennis Camire at email@example.com.