Column: Despite political surnames, it’s results that counts

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When Hawaii’s most famous U.S. senator, Daniel K. Inouye, died and was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, then-President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attended.

Inouye, who lost his right arm in fierce combat in Italy and was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor, had returned to Hawaii and became a lawyer and one of Honolulu’s honored war veterans. His career in politics was notable and well-honored, despite a 1992 charge of sexual misconduct by Inouye’s hairdresser.

All that is history now, as Inouye’s only son, Ken Inouye, says he will run for the state House next year. If he runs, Inouye is expected to face Democratic state Rep. Trish La Chica for the House seat representing Waipio-Mililani.

It is just a state House primary, but it goes to the question of how voters decide whom to support and why.

Hawaii’s political sons and daughters often try to hold onto a life in politics and run for office themselves. But it is not a guarantee.

Of course, Ken Inouye will not face a question of name identification. The state’s major airport is named after his father, plus a major Big Island highway.

Still, some families start waving the campaign signs at an early age.

The Anderson clan from Windward Oahu, for instance, had D.G. “Andy” Anderson and brother Whitney Anderson in the state Senate, with D.G. trying and failing in several campaigns for governor as both a Republican and Democrat. Whitney’s adopted son, Ikaika Anderson, made it to the chairmanship of the Honolulu City Council but failed in a race for Congress.

Tulsi Gabbard came from a family oozing politics. Mom Carol was a member of the state school board when it was an elective office, and Gabbard’s father Mike is a state senator, who started in office as a Republican but switched to the Democrats and made a name for himself campaigning against same-sex marriage. Tulsi Gabbard was a successful local politician who served eight years in Congress before failing in a run for president. She is now a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, and a Fox News contributor.

Two other Hawaii mainstay national politicians, U.S. Sens. Hiram Fong and Spark Matsunaga, also raised sons who went into the family business.

Matsunaga served as a Democratic U.S. senator from Hawaii from 1977 until his death in 1990; he also represented Hawaii in the U.S. House of Representatives. His son, Matt Matsunaga, was a state senator from 1992-2002. His political career ended in a loss, with him dropping a campaign for the U.S. House in 2006.

Fong’s son, Hiram Junior, was a former state representative and Honolulu City Council member; he died in 2017.

Another former City Council chairman, Gary Gill, is the son of former U.S. Rep. and Hawaii Lt. Gov. Tom Gill; he was unsuccessful in a comeback bid for office when he lost a race for a 2020 House seat.

If there is a success story in political families, it belongs to Kauai’s Mayor Derek Kawakami, with politicians on both sides of the family.

Kawakami’s father, Richard, had been a state House member for 20 years when he died of a heart attack after being elected speaker of the House. His widow, Bertha, succeeded him in the House and was vice chair of the Finance Committee for 14 years.

In the end, politics will show Ken Inouye that a successful family history matters not as much as what you did. Voters remember what you did for them, not who you are.

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