By Derrick DePledge
Irene Hirano Inouye, the widow of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, said Monday that it was “hurtful” for Gov. Neil Abercrombie to cast doubt on the senator’s letter urging the governor to name U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa as his successor.
Abercrombie told the Los Angeles Times in an interview last week that whether the letter “could be construed as Sen. Inouye’s dying wish — let me put it this way — is problematic.”
The governor did not dispute that the letter, hand-delivered by retired banker Walter Dods and retired attorney Jeffrey Watanabe shortly before Inouye died in December 2012, reflected the senator’s preference for Hanabusa. The governor also did not provide any evidence that the letter was not authentic.
But Abercrombie’s comments resurrected speculation, fueled by some of the governor’s political allies, that the letter was contrived to pressure the governor to choose Hanabusa.Abercrombie instead appointed Brian Schatz -- his lieutenant governor at the time -- to replace Inouye.
Schatz and Hanabusa are locked in a close Democratic primary to fill out the remainder of Inouye’s six-year term.
“The governor’s comments about Dan’s last wishes are hurtful,” Hirano Inouye said. “To question the letter and the authenticity of Dan’s last wishes is disrespectful to Dan, me, and to Dan’s family, friends and his former staff.
”It’s been nearly 16 months since Dan passed, and with the outpouring of support from so many people, we’ve been working very hard to continue Dan’s legacy through many important projects. So I find that the fact that this has been raised again -- certainly it’s saddening to me to have to go through this.”
Hirano Inouye also shared an exchange she said she had with Abercrombie when she arrived at the state Capitol in December 2012 for a ceremony honoring the senator. “The governor met me at the car and he gave me every indication that he was going to honor Dan’s wishes,” she said.
Hirano Inouye said Abercrombie did not mention Hanabusa’s name, but she thought that was what the governor was indicating. “What he said is that he would do the right thing, which certainly led me to believe that he was going to honor the request in the letter,” she said.
Most of the Hawaii news media has not speculated on the provenance of the Inouye letter. Political reporters had known long before Inouye was hospitalized and died that the senator wanted Hanabusa to succeed him.
Inouye’s family, friends, aides and others who saw him in the hospital have said that the senator, who was suffering from a respiratory ailment, was communicative. Without any independent evidence to the contrary, the public is left to decide whether those people are telling the truth.
Inouye’s “last wish” was an early theme in the primary between Schatz and Hanabusa, but had largely faded as a campaign issue.
Hirano Inouye and others in the Inouye camp are supporting Hanabusa, and Abercrombie’s comments give the Hanabusa campaign another opportunity to remind voters that the late senator trusted Hanabusa with the responsibility of following him in the Senate. Retired U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka has also endorsed Hanabusa.
Schatz issued a statement on Monday. “I do not question the authenticity of Senator Inouye’s letter,” the senator said.