Don’t tell Inouye that lawmakers ducked out

Daniel Inouye-war hero, Medal of Honor recipient, political heavyweight,

beloved U.S. senator in Hawai’i-showed up Monday where sovereignty advocates

suspected he and other federal lawmakers feared to tread.

He was surrounded

by some of his biggest fans in the Kaua’i Marriott room for a meeting of Hale

‘Opio Kaua’i Inc. It was a far cry from the grumbling that would have met

congressional committee members if the all-day hearing they’d scheduled in

Lihu’e had gone ahead.

But don’t tell Inouye, who followed through on his

speaking engagement with the Hale ‘Opio group despite having to fly over from

Oahu, that the lawmakers ducked out from the controversy.

“Some people

actually said it was a conspiracy,” mused Inouye, referring to media reports of

comments by Hawaiian-sovereignty backers who were upset by the last-second

cancellations of congressional hearings on their hot-button issue everywhere in

the state except Oahu.

Ideally, he agreed, the hearing at Kaua’i Community

College and all the others around the state this week should have gone off

without a hitch. Then everyone would have felt they’d had a true audience with

the congressional committees.

But Hawaii’s other Democratic U.S. senator,

Daniel Akaka, he of the recent hip replacement, couldn’t jet from island to

island. Doctor’s orders. He could, however, make it to Honolulu.

So last

Friday, in a shockingly ill-timed public relations gaffe, the lawmakers and

their representatives told the people who’d planned to testify that the only

way they’d be heard was if they bought an airline ticket to Honolulu, paid for

a long-distance phone call or wrote down their thoughts and mailed them

in.

Unfortunate, but unavoidable, Inouye said in defense. He insisted that

no one was intentionally slighted. A man’s health was at issue. And Akaka,

being the sponsor of the proposed federal bill, shouldn’t miss any of the

hearings, Inouye said.

Inouye also didn’t see any reason why Akaka should

be inconvenienced instead of the citizens, maybe watch videotapes or read

transcripts from hearings rather than make Native Hawaiians jump through the

hoops. No, if there are to be hearings in Hawai’i on this volatile issue, Akaka

should be present, Inouye said.

“I hope people understand. We tried our

best to accommodate all,” he said.

They got the matter of Akaka’s recovery

from surgery. But who can blame them for not warming to the slap in the face,

as many considered the cancelled hearings?

Inouye is an influential

senator, an icon. He’s a good politician. Among friends and supporters at the

Hale ‘Opio meeting, he gave an inspiring speech about the benefits of the

group’s efforts to help troubled children. The audience alternately nodded in

agreement and laughed at his quips, and gave him two standing ovations.

Afterward, he patiently answered reporters’ questions about the aborted

hearings, clearly wishing the subject was something else.

And then he was

gone. Back to Oahu went the only senator or representative to set foot on

Kaua’i on a day when its most outspoken pro-sovereignty inhabitants had to be

satisfied with preaching to the choir at an impromtu gathering at Lydgate

Park.

This was not how it should have been.

TGI editor Pat Jenkins

can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) and [

HREF=”mailto:pjenkins@pulitzer.net”>pjenkins@pulitzer.net]

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