Democrats have ignored the “dying wishes” of political figures before when it came to intra-party battles. When it’s about a party other than their own however, we’re led to believe dying wishes are supposed to supersede the U.S. Constitution.
The longtime Democratic Senator from Hawaii Daniel Inouye passed away in 2012 of respiratory complications at age 88. Inouye was a giant in Hawaii politics, serving the state for nearly 50 years.
“Sen. Inouye was an icon when he was alive and remains an icon in death,” wrote filmmaker Heather Giugni, a daughter of Henry Giugni, confidant and longtime aide to the senator, told Politico in 2014. “Sen. Inouye was our Ted Kennedy. Our Ted Stevens. Our Robert Byrd. Senators who delivered for their states.”
Before dying Inouye made it clear who he wanted to replace him: Hawaii Democratic Congresswoman at the time, Colleen Hanabusa.
“I hope you will grant me my last wish,” Inouye wrote in a letter to then Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie. “While I understand that selecting someone to serve out the remainder of my term is fully your responsibility, I respectfully request that U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa succeed me, and continue the work, together with Mazie [Hirono], on behalf of Hawaii in the U.S. Senate.”
But Abercrombie essentially ignored that request. Instead, he appointed his Lt. Governor Brian Schatz to fill Inouye’s seat.
“No one and nothing was pre-ordained,” Abercrombie said when announcing that Schatz would finish out Inouye’s term. “Of course Senator Inouye’s views and wishes were taken into account fully,” he said.
Abercrombie would even later cast doubt on the authenticity of Inouye’s dying wishes.
“I received that letter, ostensibly coming from Sen. Inouye himself, a half an hour before he died in Washington, D.C. Literally,” Abercrombie would later say. “Whether or not this could be construed as Sen. Inouye’s dying wish — let me put it this way — is problematic.”
“I think it was kind of created,” Abercrombie added. “ I don’t dispute for a second it represented his thinking, but it’s far from being a dying wish, sent from Washington and signed and sealed … by Sen. Inouye in Washington.”
A spokesman for Hanabusa stood by the authenticity of the letter and said they reflected Inouye’s sentiments and was written in his own words.
“Obviously he didn’t sit at the computer and type it up, but he dictated the contents of that letter in the week leading up” to his death, said Peter Boylan, who was Inouye’s deputy chief of staff at the time of his death, and would later serve as communications director for Hanabusa’s campaign.
The episode created a major rift among Hawaii Democrats. But there was nary a peep from national Democrats in Washington about the episode.
That is a far cry from the concerted messaging we are hearing now regarding dying wishes and how the replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s should be handled.
Photo by U.S. Congress