After Akaka: The Next Generation of Native Hawaiian Leaders

Michael Levine/Civil Beat

WASHINGTON — The only Native Hawaiian ever elected to the U.S. Senate is about to retire.

With nobody ready to take Sen. Daniel Akaka's place, will the void created by his departure provide the kick in the pants the Native Hawaiian community needs to incubate and organize a deeper "bench" of leaders?

After 36 years in Congress — 14 in the House of Representatives and 22 in the Senate — the 88-year-old Akaka decided against a re-election run. Neither of the candidates vying for his job, Democrat Mazie Hirono and Republican Linda Lingle, is Native Hawaiian.

And while both say they'll continue Akaka's advocacy for indigenous peoples, the loss of his unique voice will have impacts — symbolic and genuine — in Congress and in Hawaii.

"Let's put it this way: It's much easier to speak for Native Hawaiians if you are a Native Hawaiian," state Sen. Clayton Hee told Civil Beat Tuesday. Hee, like Akaka, is part-Hawaiian and part-Chinese.

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