Daniel Akaka, Former Democratic Senator From Hawaii, Dies at 93

Senator Daniel K. Akaka delivering his final speech on the Senate floor in December 2012. He did not seek re-election that year.

Former Senator Daniel K. Akaka, a Democrat who represented Hawaii for 36 years in Congress and successfully fought for the belated recognition of Asians and Asian-Americans who had fought for the United States in World War II, died on Friday in Honolulu. He was 93.

Jon Yoshimura, the senator’s former communications director, confirmed the death, saying Mr. Akaka had been hospitalized for several months, The Associated Press reported.

A World War II veteran, Mr. Akaka sponsored legislation in 1996 that led to a re-evaluation of the service records of Asian-Americans who had fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion during the war.

As a result, almost two dozen Medals of Honor, the military’s highest award, were ultimately bestowed belatedly, some posthumously, on Asian-American veterans, most of them of Japanese heritage. Only one had been awarded during the war itself.

After a White House awards-presentation ceremony led by President Bill Clinton in 2000, Senator Akaka said the medals had dispelled apparent wartime discrimination against Asian-American military personnel.

The most prominent recipient was Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Mr. Akaka’s much better-known colleague — and Hawaii’s senior senator — for 22 years in the Senate. Mr. Inouye, who died in 2012, had lost his right arm while serving with the 442nd in Europe.

Senator Akaka also successfully pursued legislation that provided onetime compensation for members of the Phillipine Scouts, an American-led unit of mostly Filipino and Filipino-American recruits who fought alongside United States troops but did not qualify for Veterans Administration benefits.

And he secured a formal apology for the United States’s role in the overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii in 1893 as well as a transfer of land that the federal government had taken.

But he failed in repeated legislative efforts to have native Hawaiians recognized as an indigenous people so that they might receive federal benefits similar to those provided to American Indians and natives of Alaska.

During his Senate years Mr. Akaka had stints as chairman of its Committee on Veterans Affairs and of its Committee on Indian Affairs.

Mr. Akaka was an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. On March 17, 2003, three days before the United States attacked that country, he warned the Senate:

“If we pursue our current path, we will have a war lacking in many things essential to achieving complete success. It will be a war without broad international support, without sufficient planning for post-conflict reconstruction and stability, without a definite exit time and strategy, and without a firm price tag.

“Moreover,” he continued, “it will be a war with serious ramifications for our long-term readiness capabilities for homeland security and for managing other crises.”

A steadfast liberal on most issues, he was known as a champion of federal workers, complaining that his Senate colleagues too often denigrated them and cheerfully froze their pay.

He chaired a Senate subcommittee on the federal work force and was the chief sponsor of the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Act, which provided safeguards against retaliation to federal workers who report waste, fraud and abuse.

Daniel Kahikina Akaka was born in Honolulu on Sept. 11, 1924, the youngest of eight children. His father was of Chinese and Hawaiian descent; his mother was Hawaiian. He attended public schools.

After service with the Army Corps of Engineers, he graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1952 with a degree in education and taught music, social studies and math in elementary, middle and high schools. He later became a school principal and earned a master’s degree.

After Hawaii was admitted into the union in 1959, he was an official in the state’s Department of Education and was named director of the Hawaii Office of Economic Opportunity, an antipoverty program.

Mr. Akaka was first elected to the House in 1976 and easily re-elected afterward. In 1990 he was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy caused by the death of Spark Matsunaga. He was elected that fall and re-elected in 1994, 2000 and 2006. He announced in March 2011 that he would not run again in 2012.

Mr. Akaka, who lived in Honolulu, is survived by his wife, Mary Mildred Chong, whom he married in 1948; a daughter, Millannie Akaka Mattson; four sons, Daniel Jr., Gerard, Alan and Nicholas; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

While he was never known as a key lawmaker, Mr. Akaka was familiar to watchers of C-Span: his name came first whenever the Senate roll was called and, in his early years, he relished presiding over that body, a duty many of his colleagues regarded as tedious.

In 1992, the Senate presented him with its Golden Gavel Award for presiding for at least 100 hours.

“I really was proud of being able to chair the Senate floor over the years and really looked forward to it,” he said in a 2011 interview for this obituary.

Even in his final years, he left instructions with the Democratic cloakroom that he would preside in a pinch, saying, “Any time you can’t find somebody, call me.”

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