Daniel Akaka

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Daniel Akaka was a Democratic U.S. senator, representing Hawaii for more than 20 years — from 1990 until his retirement in 2012 at age 88.

He was the first member of the U.S. Senate of Native Hawaiian ancestry.

Akaka may be best known today for his unsuccessful pursuit of legislation, known as the Akaka Bill, to federally recognize a Native Hawaiian governing entity.



The Basics

Daniel Akaka was a Democratic U.S. senator, representing Hawaii for more than 20 years — from 1990 until his retirement in 2012 at age 88. He was the first member of the U.S. Senate of Native Hawaiian ancestry.

Akaka may be best known today for his unsuccessful pursuit of federal legislation, known as the Akaka Bill, to recognize a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

Akaka is married to Mary Mildred Chong and has five children.

Early Life/Career

Akaka was born in Honolulu on Sept. 11, 1924. He graduated from the Kamehameha School for Boys in 1942, almost a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Akaka served from 1943-1947 during and after World War II in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Using funding from the G.I. Bill, Akaka earned a Bachelor of Education from the University of Hawaii Manoa in 1952. He taught high school from 1953 to 1960.

During the 1960s, Akaka was promoted to principal and received a Masters of Education, also from UH Manoa. In 1969, the Department of Education hired him as a chief program planner and two years later, he was appointed to direct Hawaii’s anti-poverty programs. In 1975, Akaka was elevated to assistant to the governor.

Political Career

Both Hawaii congressional seats became vacant in 1976, when both representatives retired to run for the U.S. Senate. Akaka ran in the 2nd congressional district to succeed Patsy Mink. He went on to serve on the House Appropriations Committee for 14 years.

When Democratic Sen. Spark Matsunaga died in office, Akaka was appointed to the seat by Gov. John D. Waihee III in April of 1990. In November of the same year, Akaka was elected to serve the remainder of Matsunaga’s term and then re-elected four years later.

In 1993, Akaka sponsored an “Apology Resolution”, which gained both House and Senate approval, to formally apologize to Native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. President Bill Clinton signed the bill.

In both Akaka’s 1994 and 2000 elections, he took more than 70 percent of the vote.

However, his 2006 campaign was more challenging. During the 2006 primary election, Akaka defeated Rep. Ed Case with 53 percent of the vote. Akaka would go on to win the general election against state Republican Cynthia Thielen with his lowest margin of victory, 62 percent.

In 2006, before the election, Akaka took heavy criticism from Time magazine. He was named one of “America’s Five Worst Senators,” and described as the “master of the minor resolution and the bill that dies in committee.”

In 2010, Akaka failed to pass his signature piece of legislation, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2010.

The stated purpose of the bill was “to provide a process for the reorganization of the single Native Hawaiian governing entity and the reaffirmation of the special political and legal relationship between the United States and that Native Hawaiian governing entity.”

Akaka is best known for his efforts on Hawaiian sovereignty. However, he has also cast key votes on several major issues over the past two decades.

One landmark bill Akaka helped pass was the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Akaka was involved in crafting and advancing the act, which remained controversial a year after it passed in 2010. Republicans argued that the reform created regulatory red tape that would hamper an already struggling national economy.

Akaka’s voting record shows that he was a loyal Democrat.

A 2011 Civil Beat analysis found that — out of all 123 Senate roll call votes from January through August of that year — Akaka and Hawaii’s other U.S. senator, Dan Inouye took opposite positions just three times. One of the key differences was Akaka’s opposition to extending aspects of the Patriot Act.

He opposed the Iraq War, a bill to create the Homeland Security Department and the Patriot Act.

Akaka voted strongly in favor of abortion rights legislation as well as same-sex domestic partnership benefits. He opposed the death penalty and an absolute right to gun ownership.

Akaka was a strong proponent of a more progressive tax system and helped to form a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

On March 2, 2011, Akaka announced he would not run for re-election in 2012. His decision came less than a week after Inouye said he could not give his colleague the kind of financial support he did in 2006, when Akaka faced and defeated then Congressman Ed Case in the Democratic primary.

Akaka told Civil Beat that he believes he “could have won” the 2012 election, and regrets “leaving this wonderful responsibility.” Akaka said he wanted to spend time in Hawaii before his age catches up with him.

Akaka served almost 22 years in the U.S. Senate and, prior to that, more than 13 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. His departure from the Senate left a a gap in Native Hawaiian leadership that remains today.

Daniel Akaka

October 2017

Monday, October 23

Pod Squad: Dan Akaka Talks About His Hopes For Hawaii

June 2016

Thursday, June 9

Hawaii On The Hill: Keeping The Islands On Washington DC’s Map

May 2016

Tuesday, May 24

Hanabusa To Run For Takai’s Seat In Congress?

May 2013

Thursday, May 23

Schatz Carries On Inouye Dream For Native American Memorial

December 2012

Friday, December 21

Akaka: Pass My Bill in Memory of Dan Inouye

November 2012

Tuesday, November 20

Akaka Retiring: Plenty Aloha, But What About Accomplishments?

Thursday, November 15

Spokesman: Inouye Healthy, Fall Unrelated to Grueling Schedule

Monday, November 5

Hawaii U.S. Senate: Hirono Trounces Lingle

October 2012

Wednesday, October 24

After Akaka: The Next Generation of Native Hawaiian Leaders

Friday, October 19

Akaka to Alaska Natives: ‘Strength In Solidarity’

September 2012

Thursday, September 13

Akaka Bill Sails Through Committee, But Tough Sledding Ahead

Tuesday, September 11

Akaka Taking Last Shot At Legacy Bill For Native Hawaiians

August 2012

Tuesday, August 28

Pacific Islands Lose an Advocate in Akaka

Thursday, August 9

Déjà Vu As Gabbard, Hannemann Fight for Senators’ Support

July 2012

Friday, July 27

Generation Dan

June 2012

Friday, June 15

Who’s the Wealthiest Member of Hawaii’s Congressional Delegation?

Monday, June 11

Civil Beat Poll – Case, Hirono Tied In Hawaii U.S. Senate Race

February 2012

Monday, February 6

Why the Emphasis on Local Financial Support in U.S. Senate Race?

Wednesday, February 1

Hanabusa Made Most Trips to Hawaii Last Year

January 2012

Wednesday, January 25

Obama’s Blueprint for Energy, Defense Could Mean Jobs in Hawaii

Thursday, January 19

Hawaii Speaks Out Against Piracy Bill

December 2011

Wednesday, December 28

Big Changes in Store for Hawaii’s Congressional Delegation

Friday, December 23

2011 Year in Review — DC808

Friday, December 16

Another Setback for Hawaiian Recognition

Tuesday, December 13

Inouye No. 1 Among Hawaii Delegates in Estimated Net Worth

Thursday, December 8

Hawaii Senators Cast Conflicting Votes on Indefinite Detention

October 2011

Wednesday, October 19

Hawaii Officials Merrily Celebrate Rail in D.C.

September 2011

Friday, September 9

Nice Speech, Mr. President, But Can It Pass?

August 2011

Wednesday, August 24

Grab Bag: Hawaii’s 2011 Congressional Votes

Monday, August 22

When Hawaii’s U.S. Senators Don’t Vote the Same Way

Tuesday, August 16

Army ‘Discouraged’ by Record-High Suicides

Thursday, August 4

Defying ‘Political Wisdom,’ Akaka Carries On

Tuesday, August 2

Hawaii Senators Back Debt Deal Despite Concerns

July 2011

Tuesday, July 19

DISCUSSION: Federal Government

Inouye: Debt Debate ‘Doing This Nation Harm’

Monday, July 11

Hello, U.S. Senate? Sorry, You’ll Have to Fax Us

May 2011

Wednesday, May 25

Capitol Watch: May 26

Thursday, May 19

Word’s Out: Hirono To Run For U.S. Senate

April 2011

Tuesday, April 26

Capitol Watch: April 27

Wednesday, April 6

Capitol Watch: April 7

March 2011

Wednesday, March 30

New Akaka Bill Ignores Lingle Concerns

Tuesday, March 22

Inouye’s Office: Shinseki Not Running For Akaka’s Hawaii Senate Seat

Thursday, March 3

Akaka Retirement Triggers Political Free-For-All

Wednesday, March 2

Hawaii U.S. Sen. Akaka Won’t Run for Re-Election

February 2011

Saturday, February 26

Capitol Watch: Feb. 28

Sunday, February 6

Capitol Watch: Feb. 7

Thursday, February 3

Capitol Watch: Feb. 3

January 2011

Saturday, January 22

Akaka Bill Fails, Lobbyists Collect $3.2M from OHA

Tuesday, January 4

Capitol Watch: Jan. 4

December 2010

Wednesday, December 22

Capitol Watch: Dec. 22

Monday, December 13

Capitol Watch: Dec. 13

November 2010

Tuesday, November 30

Capitol Watch: Dec. 1

Friday, November 5

Elections Dim Outlook of Akaka Bill — and Akaka?

October 2010

Friday, October 1

Akaka Bill Pau Already?

September 2010

Wednesday, September 15

Why the Akaka Bill Should be Enacted

July 2010

Thursday, July 22

Hawaii Links for Thursday, July 14

Tuesday, July 13

Hawaii Links for Tuesday, July 13

Wednesday, July 7

Hawaii Links for Wednesday, July 7

June 2010

Thursday, June 17

Hawaii Links for Thursday, June 17

May 2010

Thursday, May 27

Can Hawaii Democrats Unite At Weekend Convention?