A number of words have been expressed about the immediate impact of the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye on Hawaii in the U.S. Congress. With that, it is worth pointing out a few realities about how impacts like this will affect Hawaii in at least the medium term.
As with everything in government, there are certain truths and rules that will come into place in the weeks, months and immediate years after Inouye is buried, and his replacement named by the governor. Some of them will keep to the path that has already been laid out; while some of them will be created due to the absence of such a powerful individual whom many say was the center of gravity of all Hawaii politics.
Here is my take as to what can be anticipated moving forward:
Unlike in other circumstances, where either the son, wife or another member of the family works to take over and becomes the new political center of gravity, there will be no creation of a “Inouye Dynasty” in Hawaii. What will occur in the near and medium term will be the creation, instead, of a “team” of power brokers who will collectively harness Inouye’s massive political power and “run politics” as a committee, rather than transfer the baton to one other person. This team will include the governor, all four Congress members representing Hawaii, and perhaps a few other individuals who are either up and comers or brought in to “keep the spirit of Sen. Inouye alive” moving forward.
Inouye, because of the sheer amount of time he was in office, was able to start the political careers of a number of current office holders. Those include current House of Representatives member Scott Nishimoto and Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi. Even today, Sen. Inouye’s office harnesses a number of potential “up and comers” in Hawaii politics. One thing to watch for is for new faces, which went through the “University of Sen. Inouye”, to become the next generation of players in politics in Hawaii. These individuals political philosophies will consistently be to “keep the spirit of Sen. Inouye alive” in Hawaii politics.
Those individuals on the outside of the political center may be seeing the start of their Act 2 (or 3, or 4 in some cases). These individuals may include Republican Charles Djou whom might be in the most favorable positions to run again for Congress should Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be appointed to the Inouye seat or two years from now in the regular election cycle. Those on the outside of the party looking for a way back in may need to wait a bit as slots open up in the different “factions” in the Democratic party – two mentioned here are the moderates (Inouye) and progressives (Abercrombie). Those looking for a slot will include Mufi Hannemann and Ed Case, whom have been relegated to the sidelines and their political obituaries written.
The Hawaii Republican Party, for better or for worse, won’t have a place at the table in this “team” that is being developed. In fact, because of their diminished role, and even if Hanabusa were to be appointed to Inouye’s seat, and Charles Djou wins the special election to fill that House seat, the Republicans still will not be power players in the post-Inouye politics of Hawaii.
Alternative reality: should Charles, if elected to office, grows a large enough tail to bring in other Republicans into state and county service, then the Republicans may have a chance to be power players. But this won’t happen right away.
Now, a lot of this prediction goes out the door should the Democratic Party decide that it is better to engage in infighting soon after the mourning of the senator passes. It is at that point where a whole host of “what if’s” come into place that can only be realized once the dust from that settles.
In any case, let the post-Inouye era in Hawaii politics begin.
About the author: Stan Fichtman is a Masters Degree holder in Political Science from the University of Hawaii. Along with being a proud member of the Hawaii Jaycees, he’s worked at the Honolulu City Council and Pacific Business News. He currently is an analyst for the State of Hawaii.
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