Daniel Akaka: Master of the Minor

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By all accounts, Daniel Akaka is an affectionate and earnest man. Even a conservative fire-breather like Oklahoma's James Inhofe says his ultraliberal colleague "is a lovable person, and most of us are not that lovable." As a legislator, though, Akaka is living proof that experience does not necessarily yield expertise. After 16 years on the job, the junior Senator from Hawaii is a master of the minor resolution and the bill that dies in committee.
In the 2003-04 Congress, for example, he sponsored a handful of innocuous resolutions commending civil servants and establishing Financial Literacy for Youth Month. He sponsored 29 unambitious bills, almost none of which ever emerged from committee. The three that did become law named a post office, changed the boundary of a national park in Hawaii and nurtured "the development and planning of certain policies, schedules and programs" for postmasters.

Akaka's seniority has placed him in positions of potential influence. At 81 he is the ranking Democrat on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and sits on four other committees that control such valuable political real estate as the armed services and homeland security as well as energy and natural resources. He did make a mark 13 years ago by passing a resolution by which the U.S. apologized for invading Hawaii in 1893. But he has struggled recently to get a bill approved that would provide increased autonomy to the islands. Says Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report: "He lives in [senior Hawaiian Senator Daniel] Inouye's very long shadow on the back bench of the Senate, and his interests seem more parochial."