Inouye sought to influence selection of his successor
As Americans from Washington to Honolulu begin to mourn Daniel K. Inouye, speculation begins to mount as to whether the power and influence of the late senator—who served for more than a half-century and rose to be Senate Appropriations Committee chairman and president pro tempore of the Senate—will extend beyond his life.
Tuesday, published reports from the Aloha State confirmed that shortly before his death Monday, the 88-year-old Inouye wrote a note requesting that two-term Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) be appointed to the vacancy in the Senate that would result from his death. The note was delivered to Hawaii’s Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who will make the appointment of a senator who will serve until the next special election in 2014. The winner of the special election will then serve until 2016, when Inouye’s present term would have been completed.
A spokesman for Abercrombie said the governor had “no comment” on the note from Inouye. At first glance, it would make perfect sense for him to appoint Hanabusa, a former state senate president and protégé of the much-loved Inouye. When powerful senators have died in office, governors have often paid respect to them by appointing who they thought the late lawmaker would have wanted. From Huey Long of Louisiana to Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, for example, governors frequently tapped the widows of deceased senators to fill out their terms.
But, then again, the governor is not legally bound to appoint anyone he doesn’t want. With death near in 1971, Sen. Richard B. Russell (D-Ga.)—like Inouye, Appropriations Committee chairman and president pro tempore of the Senate—was visited by his state’s new governor, fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter. Russell reportedly asked Carter to name to his seat former Gov. (1958-61) Ernest Vandiver, who was married to Russell’s niece. Carter reportedly agreed.
“But Carter had no intention of keeping his word to the senator,” Vandiver later recalled to Human Events. After Russell’s death, Carter gave the Senate appointment to David Gambrell, former president of the Georgia Bar Association and treasurer of Carter’s 1970 race for governor. In 1972, Gambrell lost the Democratic primary to Sam Nunn, who went on to become a major figure in the Senate for many years.
There are others who want the once-in-a-generation chance to serve as Democratic senator from very Democratic Hawaii. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano was once considered Inouye’s likely heir, but he ran afoul of both Inouye and fellow Democratic Sen. Dan Akaka and Abercrombie when he stood against a proposal for high-speed rail in Honolulu.
Whatever happens on the Democratic side, Hawaii Republicans are likely to nominate former two-term Gov. Linda Lingle in the race for the remaining two years of Inouye’s term in 2014. A popular governor, Lingle badly lost the race to succeed Akaka in the Senate this year—a very bad year to be a Republican in Hawaii, with favorite son Barack Obama leading the Democratic ticket. In an “off” year, Lingle might do much better.
One little-reported fact about Inouye was that he learned to be a “powerbroker” from the master. Then Vice-President Lyndon Johnson helped him win his Senate seat in 1962 and was a mentor in the ways of the Senate. In 1968, outgoing President Johnson urged Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey to tap the Hawaiian as his running mate and argued that, as a Japanese-American, Inouye would rally all minorities to the Democratic banner. Humphrey instead chose Maine Sen. Ed Muskie.
Inouye was a “powerbroker” in the mold of LBJ. Whether his power extends beyond his life remains to be seen.