Obituaries

Daniel Akaka, 93, first native Hawaiian elected to Congress

Senator Akaka obtained federal funds for Hawaii for education, energy, and native Hawaiian programs.
Associated Press/file 2011
Senator Akaka obtained federal funds for Hawaii for education, energy, and native Hawaiian programs.

HONOLULU — Former senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka, the first native Hawaiian elected to Congress, died Friday. He was 93.

Senator Akaka, who served in Congress for more than three decades, died in Honolulu after being hospitalized for several months, said Jon Yoshimura, the senator’s former communications director.

The Democrat served 14 years in the US House before he was appointed to replace Senator Spark Matsunaga, who died of cancer in spring 1990. Senator Akaka won election that fall for the rest of Matsunaga’s term, and voters sent him back for consecutive terms until 2012, when he chose not to seek reelection.

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His legislative style was described as low-key, a characterization he embraced. ‘‘I have a Hawaiian style of dealing with my colleagues,’’ he said.

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Senator Akaka developed a reputation as a congenial legislator who made many friends while making few waves in pressing the interests of the 50th state.

In 1996, Senator Akaka sponsored federal legislation that ultimately resulted in Medals of Honor — the Army’s highest honor for bravery — for 22 Asian-American soldiers who fought during World War II. Those soldiers included the late Senator Daniel Inouye, who was severely wounded in Italy while serving with the famed Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Senator Akaka once said his main accomplishment in Congress was obtaining federal funds for Hawaii for education, energy, and Native Hawaiian programs.

In the 2006 general election, the then-82-year-old senator stressed the value of his Senate seniority and his opposition to the war in Iraq. Senator Akaka went on to become chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

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He expanded his harsh criticism of the George W. Bush administration, getting involved in a number of issues with a more aggressive congressional staff. A World War II veteran, Senator Akaka often stressed the hidden damage of war, including mental illness among veterans.

He introduced several measures to improve services to veterans, help aging Filipino vets who fought for America in World War II, and end contactor waste and fraud in Iraq.

But Senator Akaka gained the most attention for his fight to pass legislation that carried his name.

The Hawaiian Recognition Bill, known widely as the Akaka Bill, was intended to give Native Hawaiians the same recognition as Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Opponents called it unconstitutional favoritism toward one race even though it had broad bipartisan support in Hawaii, a state where no ethnic group makes up the majority of residents. Even some Native Hawaiians expressed doubts, arguing it would give the federal government too much immunity from their claims regarding land or other issues.

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Senator Akaka leaves his wife, Mary Mildred ‘‘Millie’’ Chong, four sons, a daughter and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.