What Inouye’s passing means for Hawaii

In 2005, the entrance to Senator Inouye's office in the glass-walled Hart building in Washington DC held a row of portraits on its wall, with Kamehameha I, Liholiho, Kauikeaouli, the rest of the Kamehameha dynasty, and the brother and sister who were Hawaii's final monarchs. And at the end, a bare spot, just the right size for another frame.

Ikaika M Hussey

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to imagine Inouye’s visage in that space. Since the 1954, he has occupied an immense, larger-than-life role in Hawaii politics and economics. He has been described as an economic engine in his own right, alongside the the military and tourism. He is an American military hero, an archetype of Japanese-American identity, and a man who often wouldn’t be named – simply referred to as ‘the senior Senator.’

A prepared statement from his staff describes the situation aptly: he helped to “build and shape Hawaii.”

Inouye died today at Walter Reed hospital, from respiratory complications. He was 88.

His passing leads to an immediate series of short and long term effects.

A successor. Under state law, Governor Abercrombie will name a successor. This will be an important decision, with a bearing on future Democratic contests against Republican challengers for the seat.

A young Congressional delegation. Hirono, Gabbard, Hanabusa, and an unknown fourth person will represent Hawaii in Congress. All women, so far, and all with low seniority.

Decreases in federal funding.  Before taking a 2011 pledge to ban earmarks, Inouye was responsible for $321 million in federal projects. This doesn’t include the multiplier effect as those monies flow through the broader economy.

What impacts do you think Inouye’s passing will have on Hawaii?