Dan Inouye was so busy in Washington in 2010 that he says he only made six trips to the islands — even though he was running for re-election.
So, when his press secretary put out an alert on Tuesday that Hawaii’s senior senator would hold a “media availability” in his Honolulu office Thursday, print, TV, wire and online reporters dutifully showed up (even if it meant hauling all their equipment through security at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building).
For 30 minutes Inouye quietly answered questions on political rhetoric, gun violence, threats against congressmen, bipartisanship, earmarks, filibusters, the Akaka bill, the power struggle at the state House and the meaning of last year’s election.
For their part, reporters genuflected and basked in the aura of the most powerful man in Hawaii politics.
OK, maybe not all reporters worshipped at Inouye’s feet. But The Honolulu Star-Advertiser sent no less than three reporters.
There is just something about Dan Inouye and his well-earned legendary status that seems to soften reporters and makes them hold back a little. This is the same pack of animals, mind you, that aggressively interrogates other congressmen, Hawaii governors and politicians on down the line.
(Full disclosure: I run with the pack.)
Of course, none of those pols are third in succession to the presidency. None rose to fame in the Watergate hearings. None lost an arm in World War II.
Inouye’s office, where the news conference was held, is dignified and chronicles his legacy. Medals for military service hang on the wall. Ceremonial swords adorn wood and velvet casings. Framed black and white photos decorate his desk.
In that kind of atmosphere it’s kind of tough for a reporter to say, for example, “Senator, why the heck can’t you get the Akaka bill passed after 10 years of trying?”
Instead, one gently inquires about the status of the legislation. (His answer: “I’ll do my absolute best to see that it comes up and passes,” he promised, adding, “It’s not going to be easy.”)
A Little News, A Lot of Class
Nothing earth-shattering came out of the news conference.
Inouye did express concern about the fight over House speaker. He confirmed that he would be meeting with leadership Friday at the Capitol, a customary visit but also one that is bound to address the impasse.
Would the new battleground over earmarks impact Honolulu receiving federal funding for rail? Inouye anticipates Republicans will raise such issues and said some states had already declined federal money for high-speed rail.
(Inouye thinks the funds are a “necessity” for Honolulu, saying he will “do my best” to secure them.)
Inouye acknowledged that the 2010 national elections had changed the climate in D.C.
“Realism dictates that we should consider the mood of the people of United States,” he said. “They spoke rather loudly this time. We can’t ignore this election and wish it would fade way. The mood tells me they are not quite satisfied with how government operates — though there are not too many details.”
Should senators vote to change the rules on filibustering, as has been proposed?
Inouye said he is open to changes, “but nothing drastic. There is good reason for extended debate.”
He also said the plan expressed by some Republicans to cut everything but defense spending “made no sense. We have to realize that we are dealing with mandatory and discretionary spending. It is not realistic to vote against a tax hike. If your are going to have services, someone has to pay for it.”
One more news item, even though it has previously been reported — and, frankly, was a foregone conclusion: Inouye will run for re-election in 2016, when he will be 92.
Watergate, Spitting, Glocks
Reporters wanted to know Inouye’s reaction to the Arizona shootings.
While concerned, he noted that such incidents have become all-too common, pointing out that there are nearly as many guns in America as people. “Why should private citizens be extended magazines and Glocks?” he asked.
He agreed political rhetoric had harshened, but he said it was the case for both the left and the right.
During the Watergate hearings, Inouye said he received threats on average of once a week. But he chose to keep them quiet so as not to inspire copycats.
He also recalled being spat upon when he first ran for political office.
“That’s a project I am proud of, instilling some pride among young Hawaiian kids,” he said. “They know Polynesians sailed 700 years before Columbus and did not get lost. It prevents them from becoming juvenile delinquents. And we save money.”
After 30 minutes, reporters ran dry on questions. Some left, others stood around for a little polite banter with Inouye.
And that was it. The most powerful man in Hawaii politics then went back to work.
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