Back Room Power Brokering Landed Hawaii Coveted Committee Posts

Adrienne LaFrance/Civil Beat

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka built up a lot of goodwill in their decades in the U.S. Senate — and Hawaii continues to live off their favor even after they've both left the nation's Capitol.

Late last week, Hawaii's freshmen senators and representative landed choice committee appointments overseeing issues crucial to the state — military, transportation, Native Hawaiian affairs, among others. Committee assignments mean everything to a state — the ability to steer national policy and direct federal dollars home.

Last month, Hawaii went from the state holding the most seniority as a delegation in the Senate to the state with the least seniority. Inouye’s death ended nearly 50 years in the Senate, and Akaka retired after 22 years.

And while the passing of Inouye created an economic cliff that Hawaii officials fear will hit the state harder than even the fiscal cliff, the strong showing by Hawaii's delegation on committee assignments could be seen as a reprieve.

A closer look at the events that unfolded Friday night show that Hawaii emerged as the big winner compared to any other state, due in large part to back room lobbying by the Inouye and Akaka staffs, sources told Civil Beat. The committees the delegation was assigned, altogether, were particularly designed for maintaining the stream of federal money that means so much to Hawaii.

Together the new delegation is in a unique position to coordinate efforts from both chambers of Congress on committees key to Hawaiian economic and political policy priorities.

"I am confident that our entire delegation knows what is at stake with Sen. Akaka and Sen. Inouye no longer representing us," Rep. Colleen Hanabusa told Civil Beat in an interview late Saturday. "I am prepared to commit every ounce of my energy and every bit of my experience and abilities for the benefit of our state. Our senators served us with humility and devotion; we will need to do the same, and we each need to be all-in. Service to our state needs to be our only focus."

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