Hawaii voters need to be concerned.
For a small state like Hawaii with just four representatives in Congress, experience matters. Sen. Daniel Inouye is the model. His length of service and skill in the art of Washington politics provide Hawaii an outsized influence on decisions being made by Congress. As Inouye likes to say, he is able to bring home the bacon.
He has four years remaining in his current term, but his position in the U.S. Senate can be diluted in the 2012 election by voters in and outside of Hawaii. There is a potential for Republicans to gain a majority in the Senate, where Inouye as senior member in the Democratic majority chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Defense. He oversees Senate decisions on spending overall as well as spending on all military defense, an important component of Hawaii's economy.
In Hawaii, former Gov. Linda Lingle will strongly challenge for Sen. Daniel Akaka's seat. Her success would allow Republicans to negate an Inouye vote as well as contribute to his potential demotion to minority member.
A Republican displacing a Hawaii Democrat in the U.S. House would further dilute Inouye's standing if he no longer could count on solid support from a Hawaii congressional delegation.
In 50 years in office, Inouye has demonstrated his political skills in deriving benefits for Hawaii, an ability to negotiate compromises to achieve goals in what he believes are the best interests of the state.
Not everyone, even in Hawaii, will agree with what Inouye decides are in Hawaii's best interests. There are times when what is best for Hawaii will be seen as not in the best interests of the nation, especially when Inouye's programs often involve federal spending that expands on the president's budget.
Few will argue that he has not provided benefits for his constituency. No one can argue that he has not mastered the practice of politics in Congress.
In a democratic structure, the political process is tedious, often chaotic and likely to be frustratingly slow. As practiced in the United States, the political process is expected to allow conflicting points of view on decisions to be made, through public and closed hearings, committee reviews and multiple periods of debate within each chamber.
It is a nasty business. Corrupting influences, such as use of wealth to direct actions of elected officials, form one extreme end of the scale of political action. It is not the only element. Highly principled, ideology-based decision-making by individuals who reject compromise - such as the positions held by ardent members of the Tea Party faction on taxes and spending - is the other extreme of the scale. The singular mindset of the highly principled can be the most disruptive to the process.
Most decision-making results from the middle ground of politics, where differences are subject to negotiations. It is a process with mostly negative connotations when described as vote trading and deal-making. Compromise carries a more positive connotation but the terms all refer to the same process of members of legislative bodies relenting on some goals and priorities to achieve agreement on others, presumably arriving at some common ground.
Compromise is the default for making decisions. It is also the basis for growth of government, since generally a decision to spend or define a new policy extends the activity of government. Objections to that effect of compromise are the reasons the Republican Party invokes party discipline on highly principled - or highly ideological - positions related to government expansion. Negotiations are allowed within the party, not with members of the opposition. Implementation of party discipline is reinforced by ideological activists
such as Grover Norquist, imposing strict standards on those he can help elect to office, or defeat.
The result is the current level of partisan polarization in Congress. When there is no compromise between relatively equal numbers, there can be little action.
Still, Inouye maintains an ability to influence outcomes in the Senate. The extent of his influence through the next four years will depend on the results of Nov. 6.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.