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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 22, 2010

Inouye making history in Senate

By David Shapiro

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye's announcement that he'll seek a ninth six-year term took on the trappings of a lifetime achievement award ceremony.

Inouye, who last announced for re-election in 2004 during a routine speech at the state Democratic Convention, did it this time before 2,000 supporters, friends and political dignitaries at a $200-a-plate dinner last week at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The Democratic icon, who once thought he might face a challenge from outgoing Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, has $3.2 million in his campaign chest for a race in which it turns out he has no significant opposition, and he continues to rake it in from his perch as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

With most politicians I'd think it was a bit over the top, but in Inouye's case perhaps it's time for some recognition of his extraordinary story that is starting to take on significance of national historical proportions.

He won the Medal of Honor with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and has been in Congress for as long as Hawai'i has been a state, including 47 years in the Senate.

At 85, Inouye recently passed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to become the third longest-serving senator in U.S. history, and he'll pass the late Sen. Strom Thurmond in June to move into second place behind 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

If Inouye is re-elected and maintains his good health, he could very well end up as the longest-serving senator ever.

I'm not a big fan of records based on longevity, but this one is truly remarkable. Inouye is one of the heavy-hitters in the Capitol and not only as the Senate's most prolific pork-barreler.

He's been a significant player in Senate Democratic leadership for most of his career, enough so that Lyndon Johnson suggested him for vice president and he seriously contended for majority leader.

I first encountered Inouye when as a freshman senator he was the speaker at my Hilo High graduation.

I was fresh off of reading in my history books about the great senators who served our country names like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Stephen Douglas, Everett Dirksen and Margaret Chase Smith.

Who would have guessed that the young fellow standing on the stage at the Hilo Civic Auditorium would serve longer than any of them?

It was like seeing Cal Ripken Jr. play in his rookie year which I did while I was in Washington covering Inouye and the Hawai'i congressional delegation.