Political Radar

History, revised

April 13th, 2014

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, planted some doubt around the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's deathbed letter urging the governor to name U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa as the senator's  successor.

Abercrombie and some of his political allies have sought to question the provenance of the Inouye letter without citing any evidence that it was not authentic.

Here is what Abercombie told the Times:

“I received that letter, ostensibly coming from Sen. Inouye himself, a half an hour before he died in Washington, D.C. Literally,” Abercrombie said in a lengthy interview Thursday. “Whether or not this could be construed as Sen. Inouye’s dying wish  — let me put it this way  — is problematic.”

Later he elaborated, saying the circumstances were “far from the drama … with which it’s been characterized.”

“I think it was kind of created,” Abercrombie said. “ I don’t dispute for a second it represented his thinking, but it’s far from being a dying wish, sent from Washington and signed and sealed … by Sen. Inouye in Washington.”

The key statement is Abercrombie's acknowledgement that the Inouye letter did indeed reflect the senator's preference for Hanabusa. One of the reasons most of the Hawaii news media have not speculated about the letter's authenticity is that political reporters had known of Inouye's wishes long before the senator was hospitalized and died.

Had the Inouye letter mentioned someone other than Hanabusa, the Hawaii media would have aggressively challenged its origins.

The only people who know for sure whether Inouye signed off on the letter in his final days were the family, friends, aides, doctors and nurses who were by his side. Several have offered public accounts that Inouye was communicative so, without any evidence to the contrary, the public is left to decide whether those people are telling the truth.

Undisputed, however, is the fact that Inouye wanted Hanabusa to succeed him. Also undisputed is that the decision was Abercrombie's to make after receiving the list of nominees from the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

“I don’t argue a bit that represented his sentiments,” Abercrombie said, even as he questioned the letter’s authorship. “I say with equal certainty that I also know he admonished me to do what I thought was best for the people of Hawaii.”

The other narrative that Abercombie and his allies have sought to spread is that the Inouye letter was immediately leaked to the news media to put pressure on the governor.

While it is possible that some in the news media received the Inouye letter right after the senator died, the fact is that it was Abercrombie himself who first publicly disclosed the letter's existence.

Just 20 minutes after news broke that Inouye had died, Abercrombie appeared at a previously scheduled press conference on the state budget.

An emotional Abercrombie read from the letter but did not mention the Hanabusa recommendation. The governor said that the senator's "thoughts and words were lucid and available to us right up until the very last minute."

One reporter asked Abercrombie whether the letter was instructive or indicated who or the kind of person the senator wanted to replace him, but the governor described the letter as personal.

The Star-Advertiser first learned about the contents of the Inouye letter from a source close to the senator who was unhappy that Abercrombie had publicly discussed the letter at the press conference but did not share its main point, which was to recommend Hanabusa.

Hawaii News Now and the Star-Advertiser posted stories about the Inouye letter a few hours after Abercrombie's press conference.

While it is conceivable that others in the news media had the letter as well, it is highly unlikely that the outlets would have sat on the information for several hours.

Regardless, Abercrombie's own disclosure of the Inouye letter made it certain that reporters would press both the governor and the Inouye camp for its contents.

The Star-Advertiser reported two days after Inouye died that retired banker Walter Dods and retired attorney Jeffrey Watanabe had hand-delivered the Inouye letter to the governor. The story discussed the pressure Democrats would face in deciding whether to honor the senator's last request.

Abercrombie would appoint Brian Schatz, his lieutenant governor, over Hanabusa.

Schatz and Hanabusa are competing in the Democratic primary to fill out the remainder of Inouye's six-year term, which runs through 2016.

10 Responses to “History, revised”

  1. Guy:

    Okay, Derrick. You've justified media's publishing the letter. Not surprising you would feel the need to do so. What is most enlightening, though, is that the letter was not a "deathbed" letter after all, which is how it was reported!

    From the article (which was actually an AP story the LA Times ran):

    ' "he dictated the contents of that letter in the week leading up" to his death, said Peter Boylan, communications director for Hana­busa's campaign and deputy chief of staff to Ino­uye at the time of his death. '

    Small detail? Perhaps. But yes, history revised!

  2. Bart Dame:

    The senator fulfilled his responsibility to Congresswoman Hanabusa by communicating his wishes. I not only think he had the right to express his judgement on the matter, but a responsibility.

    I think the Democratic Party's state central committee lived up to its responsibility by interviewing the various applicants and sending onto the Governor their three top picks: Hanabusa, Schatz and Kiaaina. There were attempts by some to lobby for other names as well as factional temptations to exclude either Schatz or Hanabussa. But the SCC ignored those influences and lived up to its responsibility.

    And the Governor lived up to HIS responsibilities. He considered the Senator's advice. But ultimately, as Inouye had said previously, the decision rightly belonged to the Governor. There were good reasons to choose Hanabusa. And there were good reasons to choose Schatz. (I think Kiaaina was a distant 3rd in qualifications, but above the other names under consideration.)

    But the argument being promoted by Hanabusa's supporters that she should be appointed "because it was Senator's dying wish" is extremely invalid and, to me, offensive. It is offensive because it was designed to pressure Abercrombie, to put him on the spot, to label him as "disrespectful" of the Senator if he appointed someone else. And, it was offensive to me, because it portrayed Senator Inouye as if he were a dying monarch and that he should have had the power to name his successor. While I could not be labelled a member of "Team Inouye," and I sometimes disagreed with him or, more often, some who claimed to speak in his name, in my years of involvement in the Democratic Party, I did not find him the stereotyped notion that he "gave orders" to Democrats to be accurate or fair. Yet, Watanabe and Dods, along with certain Inouye staffers, are promoting that caricature with their insistence the "monarch's dying wish be honored." (It strikes me as a scene better suited for a feudal court than a modern democracy. Or maybe the "Game of Thrones"?)

    I think if we read through the Governor's stumbling comments to the LA Times, we can see they are exaggerating what he said. As DePledge notes, the Governor does not dispute the letter represented the Senator's thinking. He does wonder (aloud) about the "robo-signing" of the letter and to what extent it can accurately be called a letter "from Inouye." It was "written" and signed through a process not available to the rest of us. It is "problematic" to not acknowledge these details, even while acknowledging, in the very next breath, it did reflect his thinking.

    He is NOT saying the letter is a fraud. Sorry, conspiracy theory addicts.

  3. Ron Jacobs:

    In today’s paper (April 14, 2014,), you quote the following from Dan Boylan’s interview of Neil Abercrombie:
    “Abercrombie chose (Brian) Schatz, in part, he said, because of his youth. He is 41 and (Colleen) Hana­busa is 62,
    and that gives him the potential, Abercrombie said, to serve longer in the Senate and accrue more power.”
    Hello? Has not Abercrombie applied this theory to himself? The average age of Hawai’i’s elected governors
    when sworn in was 46. The previous oldest was John Burns at 53.
    If re-elected, Abercrombie will be 80-years-old if he completes his second term. That is older than any of the
    sixteen previous Territorial and state governors. Of that group, Joseph Poindexter, who served from 1934 to1942,
    left office at age 73.
    I was born in Hawai’i and handed out Dan Inouye voting cards on election day 1953. I have interviewed for broadcast
    or print Inouye plus every elected Governor including Abercrombie. On August 15, 2008, he told me that he would
    serve out his term in the U. S. House of Representatives and not run for governor. One year later he announced
    his candidacy for that office.
    I first interviewed Neil Abercrombie in 1976. His attention-getting gimmick was to drive around town in a yellow Checker
    Taxi with his name and face painted on the sides.
    Since then Abercrombies’s political positions have moved around as often as his cab. The most recent example is his
    contradictory statement on the youth and age of elected officials. More deceptive inconsistency from our chief executive.
    Ron Jacobs
    Pearl City

  4. Derrick DePledge:

    Don't usually comment on blog posts, and I'll let others decide whether a letter sent an hour before someone dies is a "deathbed" letter, but it was indeed the LA Times that had the interview with the governor.

  5. Ron Jacobs:

    My mistake:Mmeant Peter Boylan not Dan Boylan quoted in LA Times story.

  6. Gerald de Heer:

    Bart is correct, no conspiracy. I would however, characterize the actions of Dods, Watanabe, and the Inouye Staffers as loyal friends who were determined to complete what the Senator wanted. While I disagree with Governor Abercrombie's choice, there is no doubt that the Governor did what he thought was right. Same with 'Team Inouye'.

  7. Guy:

    Derrick, correct. I misread the byline. Not AP.

  8. Eric Ryan:

    Especially in the People's Republic of Hawaii, we care what politicians think we should do, rather than the other way around. Anna Nicole Inouye should pipe down and move back to whereever Danny found her, much younger than he and unmarried . . . just like Anna Nicole Smith.

  9. Guido Sarducci:

    July, 2013: Neil Abercrombie Conspiracy Theory Claims Inouye Letter Conspiracy


  10. Especially Incognito:

    Seems conservatives are becoming more libertarian in
    speech and actions...If that holds water for some
    than it would be double standards if not for all...
    Seems that being a libertarian means Las Vegas or bust...

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