Monday, December 17, 2012

Iowa Tops Senate Seniority

With the death this afternoon of Hawaii Senator Dan Inouye, Iowa will have the most senior delegation in the Senate.

The unlikely duo of Republican Chuck Grassley, elected in 1980, and Democrat Tom Harkin, elected four years later, will have a combined 60 years in the chamber.

Grassley will rank sixth in seniority. Harkin will likely move up to seventh, assuming John Kerry (who has one day over Harkin) is named Secretary of State.

That's a far cry from Iowa's recent history. No Iowa Senator was re-elected between 1966 and Grassley's first re-election in 1986.

Until Inouye's death Hawaii had ranked first in seniority. Inouye was just weeks away from 50 full years in the Senate. His colleague Daniel Akaka had served since 1990, but retired this year. In the new Senate, with two freshmen, Hawaii will rank last in seniority.

The new senior senator is Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, elected in 1974, who will take over as president pro tem. That post is third in line to the presidency behind vice president and Speaker of the House.

All this is trivia compared to the remarkable life of Inouye, a true American hero long before he went to Washington. Inouye lost his arm charging machine gun nests in Italy in the last month of the European war. Here's how he won his Congressional Medal of Honor: "As the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left." And don't forget: this was when many of his fellow Japanese-Americans were in internment camps.

Inouye was a key player in gaining Hawaii its statehood, and in fact had represented the state since it was admitted in 1959, moving to the Senate after a brief House tenure. You owe it to yourself to read his staff's official biography and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's tribute.

Reports are that Inouye's last word was "Aloha." What better tribute to the state he loved.

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