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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inouye planning for less-robust military presence

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

In his WaikÔkÔ apartment, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye spoke yesterday about his re-election plans. Next to him is his wife, Irene Hirano.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who will formally launch his re-election campaign at a Waikiki fundraiser tonight, said he would focus on preparing Hawai'i to be less reliant on the military if elected to another six-year term.

The military, along with tourism, is a foundation of the state's economy. Inouye, a Medal of Honor recipient who has been an advocate of military expansion in the Islands for more than a half-century, yesterday said the state should not assume that the military's presence will remain as strong for the next generation.

The Hawai'i Democrat said advances in technology could make it easier for the military to consolidate operations, such as communications, on the Mainland.

"The military presence here is assured at this moment. But what about 30, 40 years from now?" the senator said in an interview at his Waikiki condominium, with his wife, Irene Hirano, by his side.

"And if one is going to plan the future of any state or community, you can't plan just two years ahead of time, you have to look down the road."

Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also said he would continue to use the leverage of his seniority to try to deliver federal money and projects to Hawai'i.

The state's loss of seniority by the resignation of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, who is running in Hawai'i's Democratic primary for governor, will place a larger burden on Inouye.

"There's no question about that," he said.

Inouye, 85 and second in seniority in the Senate behind Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia, is seeking his ninth term. His campaign has raised more than $4 million over the election cycle and had $3.2 million in cash available at the end of last year.

His advisers expect 2,000 of the state's political, business, and labor leaders at his fundraiser and announcement tonight at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

No major Republican candidate has announced. The state GOP, which is optimistic about Republican chances to replace Abercrombie in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District and in the governor's race, has not groomed a credible challenger to Inouye.

Jonah Ka'auwai, the state GOP chairman, described Inouye's success at getting federal money for Hawai'i as "a necessary evil."

"Hawai'i depends upon Sen. Inouye's pork, and hence he considers himself the 'king of pork,' the king of earmarks," Ka'auwai said. "He has positioned himself in a place where Hawai'i needs him and depends upon him, but it's not good for Hawai'i's future."

Dante Carpenter, interim chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawai'i, said "seniority is next to godliness" and that Inouye's position in the Senate is invaluable.

"As long as he's physically and mentally able to handle that job, Hawai'i is in a great place when it comes to federal appropriations," Carpenter said.

Inouye said turnover in the Senate because of retirements and departures could lead to more bipartisanship.

Now that Senate Democrats have lost their supermajority and are unable to control the chamber, Inouye said the Senate may be less partisan and more focused.

Inouye had an unusual power-sharing arrangement with his friend, former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, on several committees, and Inouye said he has tried to lead the Senate Appropriations Committee with balance:

"We do not just preach but practice bipartisanship."

Inouye said he briefly doubted he would remain for another term after his first wife, Maggie, died in March 2006. He said his marriage to Hirano in May 2008 gave him new energy.

The senator does not often talk publicly about his own mortality, but he said he has instructed his family and staff to closely monitor his physical and mental state. If re-elected, he would be 92 by the end of his next term.

"I can assure you, and I can assure the people of Hawai'i, that if I ever felt that I'm physically not up to it, or mentally deficient, I would quit," he said.

Inouye also does not often speak expansively about his potential legacy. "I would hope the people would say, 'He served us honestly,' " he said.