Hawaii could elect its first Jewish senator next year if former two-term Republican governor Linda Lingle can win the seat left open by retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D). If she can’t win in 2012 “it’s going to be a long time before Republicans ever get another senator from Hawaii,” according to Stuart Rothenberg, one of the best political and election handicappers in the business.
“Democrats are confident President Obama’s name at the top of the ballot will just be too much for Lingle to overcome,” according to the Rothenberg Political Report.
If Lingle wins, she could double the number of Republican Jews in the U.S. Congress, assuming Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, holds on to his seat. She is expected to be a strong supporter of Israel, but Republican or Democrat, Jew or non-Jew, no one can be more ardently pro-Israel than the Aloha state’s senior senator, Daniel K. Inouye.
Inouye, the 87-year-old president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, has represented Hawaii since it became a state in 1959, starting in the House of Representatives and elected to the Senate in 1962. He has played a critical leadership role for many years in providing military and economic assistance for Israel through his service on the powerful Appropriations committee, as chair or ranking Democrat on both the defense and foreign operations subcommittees before his present post as head of the full committee.
Late one December night in the Capitol members of the House and Senate appropriations committee were meeting to reconcile the differences in the foreign aid bill prior to final passage. The House subcommittee chair, although a strong supporter of Israel, refused to go along with the Senate’s higher numbers for the Jewish state than in his version of the bill, because “I won’t be out-Israeled by anyone.” When the conferees finally emerged, Inouye told me, “The only thing I accomplished tonight was I didn’t throw the ash tray at that old prick,” referring to his House counterpart, a fellow Democrat.
Inouye, a severely wounded World War II hero and holder of the Medal of Honor, worked his way through George Washington University Law School as an Israel Bonds salesman in the early days of the nascent Jewish state, building close ties to Israel and to the Jewish community. He has been a staunch supporter ever since. He once told me he had seriously considered converting to Judaism but being the son of Japanese immigrants and having only one arm, he figured he’d had enough tzoris.
An Israeli friend of Inouye believes the Hawaiian’s worldview was shaped by the discrimination he experienced and saw during the war years. “I think that the fate of the Japanese minority in the states during World War II and the fighting in Europe influenced him and steered him toward us,” said Dan Halperin, the Israeli finance ministry’s man in Washington for many years.
Last year Inouye announced he intends to run for a ninth term in 2016, by which time he will have become the longest serving senator in history. He will be 92.