The death of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye Dec. 17 came as a blow to generations of Hawaii lawmakers who drew inspiration from his statesmanship, demeanor and more than five decades of service in the U.S. Senate.
Now, discussions have begun on how to best honor the man who became the second longest serving senator in U.S. history, and third in line to the presidency.
“I can't think of anything that's big enough, you know,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who served as one of Inouye’s aides from 1978 to ’81. “He was also a man that was so humble and very modest for all his accomplishments that you've got to find that balance between something that recognizes his greatness, but also his humility,” the mayor went on.
Renaming a county building in honor of Inouye would take a City Council resolution, and Caldwell wants to reach out to those who were closest to the late senator before any measure is drafted.
“I think we need to work closely with his family, and look to them for some guidance of what they think is most appropriate,” the mayor told KITV4. “We don't want to name something and regret it, and have to move it back. So, I think there's going to be a lot of thought here.”
At the state level, Gov. Neil Abercrombie agrees properly memorializing Inouye will take time.
“When we get something figured out that's appropriate, we’ll want to discuss it with the senator’s family and with his staff and supporters,” said Abercrombie. “When we come to a conclusion on that, we’ll move forward with it.”
Renaming a state facility to honor Inouye would require a resolution passed by both the state House and Senate, and when asked, many lawmakers instinctively think of Honolulu International Airport.
However, Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Michelle Kidani is concerned the aging airport would reflect poorly on Inouye’s many contributions to the state.
“I thought about maybe the airport, but you know that's kind of not that special,” said Kidani. “I just think we need to think of something a little bit more.”
But House Minority Leader Rep. Gene Ward believes the Daniel K. Inouye Honolulu International Airport would necessarily become a world-class facility.
“It may be an incentive to make it look respectable to the level that it should be,” said Ward. “We've got to rise to the occasion, and naming it after Daniel Inouye I think is part of that.”
As a Medal of Honor recipient who lost his right arm storming an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, Inouye is as well known for his military service in World War II as his many decades in the Senate. Ways and Means Chairman Sen. David Ige, whose father served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team with Inouye, hopes any memorial will reflect that sacrifice.
“I think it should be something that is bigger than life, and just naming buildings and stuff like that to me is somewhat limiting,” said Ige. “It should be something that honors that whole generation, and how much they really changed Hawaii for the better.”