The Honolulu Star-Advertiser broke the news March 2 that Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, will retire at the end of his current term, choosing not to seek re-election in 2012. He currently chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and has unsuccessfully sought federal recognition for Native Hawaiians since at least 2000. He has defended and supported many tribal interests during his long time in Congress. He is of Native Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry.
Akaka’s retirement is widely viewed as a negative for Indian country, especially because he won’t be able to have a lasting impact at SCIA, which he just began chairing in January. He will likely use his remaining time with the committee making a major push to secure Native Hawaiian federal recognition this year, but it is going to be a challenge, as it was even with a Democratic Congress last year.
When Akaka addressed the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians earlier in the week in Washington, D.C., he gave no hint of an impending retirement. “It will be an honor to continue the important work of this Committee,” he said in prepared remarks. “I look forward to working with you all to ensure that the United States fulfills its trust obligations to our nation’s first peoples.”
Akaka, age 86, was elected to the Senate in 1990 after having served 14 years in the House. He was expected to face a tough challenge in terms of fundraising if he would have chosen to run again.
“After months of thinking about my political future, I am announcing today that I have decided not to run for re-election in 2012,” Akaka said in a statement issued March 2. “As many of you can imagine, it was a very difficult decision for me. However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve the people of Hawaii. In 2006, the people of Hawaii gave me an opportunity to continue my service in the United States Senate and I fully intend to serve the last two years of my term in office.”
“Danny Akaka answered the call to serve right after high school by joining the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “When he returned to Honolulu, he continued to serve the people of Hawai’i as an educator before embarking on more than three decades of distinguished service in both houses of Congress. Danny spent his career fighting for our troops, veterans and their families and for the rights of Native Hawaiians. He worked tirelessly to reform Wall Street and to make sure that consumers and small business owners are treated fairly in our system. His voice in the Senate will be missed. Michelle and I would like to join the people of Hawai’i in saying ‘mahalo’ to Danny for his lifetime of service and offer both him and Millie our best wishes for the future.”
“Senator Akaka has served this country with distinction for his entire adult life. All Americans are grateful for his service. He will be missed, but Democrats will absolutely keep his seat,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Patty Murray in a statement. “With a heavily-leaning Democratic electorate and their native son up for re-election as President of the United States, we are confident the people of Hawaii will continue to have two Democrats serving them in the United States Senate.”
Akaka joins Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad, Jim Webb, Jeff Bingaman, Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, and Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl in announcing he will not seek re-election.