Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01) today led a Special Order of speeches on the House floor honoring the late Senator Daniel K. Akaka. Members of Congress shared their memories and experiences with Senator Akaka, honoring his lifelong legacy of service to Hawaiʻi and our nation.
Honoring Senator Daniel K. Akaka on the House floor today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said:
“I rise today in memory and in celebration of my friend and mentor, Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka, who took his final breaths exactly one week ago today. I was in Hawai‘i and woke up to a text message from one of his children who let me know that he had passed away around 5 o’clock that last morning. We all took that day to remember him, his life, and think back on the memories we have of how he dedicated his life to serving the people of Hawai‘i and our country: from his service in the U.S. Army during World War II to his years that he spent taking care of our keiki as a public school teacher and a principal, his work in the state, and then serving more than 36 years in the United States Congress.
“He was the first Member of Congress to serve of Native Hawaiian ancestry and made history in many different ways. He is known throughout Hawai‘i for so many reasons, but when you say the word ‘Akaka,’ it is synonymous with aloha because that’s what he represented throughout his life. The warmth, fondness, love and kindness that he shared with everyone made him not known so much as ‘Senator Akaka,’ but as ‘Uncle Danny.’
“He did all of this with his wife, Millie, by his side. Mother of five children, Aunty Millie herself was a force of nature. She was ever present here in Washington with Senator Akaka in his travels and expressed aloha in her own way.
“In everything he did, he put service before self. He truly walked the talk. He carried the spirit of aloha in his heart and at the forefront of his actions. In this last week, the people of Hawai‘i, many people across the country, and our colleagues here in Washington have been sharing their own personal stories about how Senator Akaka touched and inspired their lives, the legacy that he left behind, and the example that he set with his life. The central theme in each of these stories always comes back to aloha, which means kindness, respect, and love for others, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, or anything else.
“To this day, here in the Capitol, I’ll bump into some his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate, those he served with in the U.S. House, and as soon as you mention his name you can see their shoulders fall, their stress fall away, and a smile appears on their faces as they think about their time serving with him. They have little stories about a CODEL they went on with him or a Committee they served on with him, and they always talk about how kind he was. No matter who you were, no matter what was going on around you, he always took that moment to share the warmth of his own heart with yours. These stories even come from those who disagreed with him, and from those who fought him the hardest on his signature bill, the ‘Akaka Bill.’ Even if they opposed his policies, none of them had anything ill to say of him. This speaks to the impact that he left on the United States Capitol, on Washington, on this country, and on Hawai‘i. It speaks to the legacy that he leaves behind that will continue to inspire leaders of our country, leaders in our community, and people everywhere to serve in that same spirit of aloha with respect for everyone.
“After I returned home from my first deployment to Iraq with the Hawai‘i National Guard, I had the privilege of working in Senator Akaka’s office as a Legislative Aide. He was the Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and I felt this was a great opportunity to help him to reform and change our VA and how our veterans are cared for. In particular, the post-9/11 Veterans who are the large number of National Guard and Reservists who were activated to serve in the Middle East and were not being treated with the respect, honor, and dignity that they had earned through their service. His work included everything from the GI Bill to VA services and qualifications that they earned. I was able to experience firsthand the impact that he made and his example of Aloha: taking the time as he was rushing to a Committee or to vote to stop and say hello to the janitor who was mopping the floor, to visitors who were coming from Hawai‘i and other states, to stop and talk to the staff and ask how they were doing, how was their family, how were things going. He invested in building lifelong relationships because he understood how important every individual is and he wanted to take advantage of that moment to share his aloha. He recognized that only by working together through aloha can we make real, positive change.
“For those of us who had the opportunity to work with Senator Akaka, either in his office in Washington, in Hawai‘i, on one of his campaigns, or in some other capacity, we’ve bonded over the years. Every year, we got together with Senator Akaka, his wife, and his family to celebrate his birthday in September. This past September, I spent some time with him and, as he always does, he asked how things were going in Washington. He expressed his sadness about how divisive things have become, how the kind of collegiality and respect that existed when he was serving in the U.S. Senate that allowed people to disagree without being disagreeable, that allowed people to debate strongly on issues, but come together at the end of the day to find a solution, has largely been lost. As a result, we are seeing the gridlock and the divisiveness and the lack of results, the lack of delivery to our constituents, in large part because of a lack of aloha. This respect has largely been lost. He has always spoken about how aloha is the solution.
“As we remember Senator Akaka’s legacy of service and aloha, the best way that we can honor his life is by doing our best to live aloha in his example—serving others, to protect our planet, and finding common ground where we can. Even though we disagree on certain issues, there will be others that we agree on: fighting for justice, fighting for equality, and fighting for peace. He was a courageous leader. I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve my constituents in Hawai‘i in the same congressional seat that he once held. I will forever be inspired by his friendship and the life that he lived. Mahalo nui loa to his wife, Aunty Millie, and to his entire family for sharing him with us. Thank you to Uncle Danny, for sharing your aloha with the world. You will be missed. A hui hou.”