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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Inouye, Akaka choose politics over principle

By David Shapiro

In terms of political theater, the launch of Colleen Hanabusa's campaign for Congress was "The Kaka'ako Chainsaw Massacre" as Hawai'i's two U.S. senators seized the event to deliver unusually vitriolic attacks on fellow Democrat Ed Case, Hanabusa's main rival.

Senior Sen. Daniel Inouye was so center stage that he almost seemed to be channeling through Hanabusa to run against Case himself in the special election to finish the term of Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is resigning to run for governor.

Sen. Daniel Akaka's part was to intone, "Daniel K. Inouye has spoken," as if that ended all discussion. ("Hey, youse guys, do what the boss says or else.")

All Hanabusa had to do in her supporting role was wear her lei and try to look like Inouye's kind of "gal," as he described her.

As the cutting blades ripped at Case's political flesh with no sense of overkill, it came across as a sad attempt by the aging senators to extend their power beyond their own time by stifling political competition and tightly controlling who voters elect to Congress behind them.

The essence of Inouye's complaint was that Case isn't a "team" player because he won't wait to run for Congress until he has Inouye's permission, which would be never.

Case's first sin in Inouye's eyes was winning the 2002 special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink.

Democratic regulars were dismayed by polls showing the independent Case with a big lead over "team" candidates such as Matt Matsunaga and Hanabusa and came up with a plan to have all Democrats stand down and let John Mink finish his wife's term.

Case declined to go along with the scheme to give other Democrats time to build strength against him. He ran and won in the special election, then beat Matsunaga and Hanabusa for a full term. John Mink supported him in his next campaign.

Case really got on Inouye's bad side when he availed himself of the privilege of living in a free country and ran against Akaka for the Senate in 2006. It was a huge political miscalculation, and Case was soundly defeated.

Now Inouye seems incensed that Case dares show his face in another run for Congress rather than accept the senior senator's sentence of lifetime banishment.

It's interesting that Inouye invokes Patsy Mink, an independent Democrat in her own right whose political career actually followed a path similar to Case's.

She was first elected to Congress without backing from Team Inouye and once told me she got so little help from fellow Democrats Inouye and then-Rep. Spark Matsunaga in setting up her office that she had to turn to Republican Sen. Hiram Fong.

When Fong retired, Mink ran against Matsunaga for the Senate seat sans the blessing of Team Inouye and took a licking just as Case did against Akaka. She bounced back and ultimately reclaimed a seat in the House, as Case is now trying to do.

The suggestion of Inouye and Akaka that the congressional "team" has to march in lockstep to be effective for Hawai'i is nonsense.

Despite not being politically close to other Democrats in the Hawai'i congressional delegation, Mink had no problem working with them on issues of pressing concern to Hawai'i.

The same was true of Case during the years he served in the House, when there were few differences between him and the others on Hawai'i-related issues.

Despite what Inouye says, our problem in Hawai'i is too little political competition, not too much, and we're fortunate to have three credible candidates for the congressional seat in Hanabusa, Case and Republican Charles Djou.

There are many important issues for them to debate, and it's unfortunate to have it reduced to willingness to kiss Inouye's ring.