U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka will not seek re-election in the 2012 election.

Akaka, 86, has served in the Senate since 1990, when he was appointed by Gov. John D. Waihee III. He is the first member of the Senate with Native Hawaiian ancestry. He may be best known today for his unsuccessful pursuit since 2000 of legislation, known as the Akaka Bill, to recognize a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

His decision comes less than a week after Sen. Daniel K. Inouye said he could not give his colleague the kind of financial support he did in 2006, when Akaka faced a primary challenge from then Congressman Ed Case. With Inouye’s strong backing, Akaka won the race handily.

But last year Akaka failed to see passage of the measure that bears his name, the Akaka bill, that would grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians and lead to the establishment of a governing entity. Democrats had majorities in both the House and Senate and a sympathetic president in the White House.

The 2010 elections threw the House to the GOP and narrowed Democrats’ majority in the Senate, making it difficult for the party to control legislation.

At least five of Akaka’s Senate colleagues announced in recent weeks that they were not seeking re-election, and speculation grew as to Akaka’s intentions.

The final decision may have been spurred by Inouye naming at least a half-dozen prominent local Democrats that could run for the open seat. Former Gov. Linda Lingle and former Congressman Charles Djou are also possibilities.

This much is certain: For the first time in more than two decades, Hawaii will have a strongly contested race for the U.S. Senate, and the impact will be felt across the political spectrum.

Akaka’s office issued the following press release this afternoon.

Senator will serve out the rest of his term and allow Hawaii voters to choose his successor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) issued the following statement today:

After months of thinking about my political future, I am announcing today that I have decided not to run for re-election in 2012. As many of you can imagine, it was a very difficult decision for me. However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve the people of Hawaii. In 2006, the people of Hawaii gave me an opportunity to continue my service in the United States Senate and I fully intend to serve the last two years of my term in office.

At the end of this term, I will have served almost 22 years in the United States Senate and, prior to that, more than 13 years in the United States House of Representatives. I am proud of my accomplishments and my incredible staff in Washington, D.C. and Hawaii. They have exemplified the true meaning of being a public servant. They have worked tirelessly and without their dedication and loyalty, I could not have accomplished all that I did.

Millie and I will return to Hawaii at the end of this Congress and spend time with our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I would also like to spend time documenting my life and career, and serving as a mentor to future political leaders. I have always strived to serve the people with much love and aloha, never forgetting my humble beginnings, and it is my hope that they, too, will continue this tradition. We must never forget that we, as political leaders, work for the people of Hawaii and not the special interests.

I will always cherish the time I spent working in Washington, D.C., and extend my heartfelt thanks to the people of Hawaii for their confidence in me.

I would like to thank my family, my staff and my friends for their unwavering support. I would like to especially thank my wife, Millie, for her continuous support and encouragement. I could not have done it without her.

Finally, I would like to thank Senator Dan Inouye. I will forever be grateful for his friendship and steadfast support.