WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - In six weeks, Senator Daniel Akaka will bid a final aloha to a career in Washington that has spanned 36 years. Hawaii News Now was given exclusive access to follow the Senator as he wraps up his time on Capitol Hill. We talked to some high-profile colleagues who say they'll miss their dear friend, "Danny".
Around the halls of Congress, Senator Akaka is known as a quiet statesman - more workhorse than showhorse. That could be because he started more than three decades ago - "before" all the spin rooms and unbending partisan politics.
"He's sort of part of a bygone era of the United States Senate that figured out how to have sort of a personal connection and used that to forge compromises on big bills," says Chuck Todd, NBC News Chief Washington Correspondent.
Colleagues say he'll be remembered most for two things: Veterans Affairs and Native Hawaiian rights. He's one of only three current Senators, along with Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, from the Greatest Generation.
"The last of the WWII Senators … these men both served … were war heroes," explains Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent.
New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg is the third currently serving WWII Senator … in Congress with Akaka for 30 years.
" … the wonderful character of this man. It will help, I must tell you, in our recruiting. It would help in terms of the morale of veterans, and that's the kind of impact that Danny Akaka brings," says Lautenberg.
Republican Senator and Vietnam Veteran, John McCain, adds that Akaka has tackled veterans' PTSD, unemployment, and suicide rates. "All are issues that Danny has attacked but also, Hawaii, of course, is a real bastion in the Pacific, for not only active duty men and women, but also, our very significant veterans' population."
As the only Senator of Chinese-Hawaiian descent, Akaka's cultural identity has been the driving force behind his legislation for Hawaiian parity with other indigenous groups.
"He cares about the native population in Hawaii," says Minnesota Senator Al Franken. "He's an enormous champion for them. Ever since I've been here in the Senate - no greater champion for his people than Danny Akaka."
Critics have said, however, that the Senator is not out front enough - that, through the years, he's sponsored unambitious and innocuous bills. Inouye says his friend's gentle demeanor should not be misinterpreted for weakness. "(He) stands for what he believes in, and he may be one of the few in the opposition, but he sticks to it - which is something one must admire in this business."
Others say his legacy may have nothing to do with policy at all; rather, it's that rare example he's set as a gentleman, a patriot, and a true statesman of aloha.
And in the coming weeks, Hawaii News Now will air a special presentation, aptly titled, "Daniel Akaka: the Aloha Statesman". You won't want to miss this exclusive profile on his long and illustrious career.