HONOLULU - Saving Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard from threatened closure. Helping Hawaii emerge as a premier location for the study of astronomy, marine biology and other sciences. Preserving a forest home to native plants and endangered birds.
The late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye wielded influence and secured federal funds in support of the above, making himself a pillar of Hawaii's economy along with tourism, defense and construction. His passing Monday at the age of 88 has the state not only mourning a senator who represented it in Washington for half a century but also bracing and preparing for what his loss will mean for jobs and the environment in the longer term. The impact of his departure is compounded by the retirement of Hawaii's other senator, 88-year-old Daniel Akaka, next month.
Hawaii is now facing an "economic storm," said state Sen. Glenn Wakai.
Preparations are made for the body of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye to lie in state today in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington.
"He was called the fourth engine of our economy," Wakai said, "and if we only have three now, that certainly means we better make those three very robust and look for creating a fourth and fifth leg to hold up the stool."
Inouye was proud of his skill at directing money back home. He proclaimed himself the "No. 1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress" the year he became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, an anti-earmark group, Hawaii won 183 earmarks valued at $412 million in the 2010 fiscal year - the highest per capita amount in the nation.
The economic downturn and the Senate's moratorium on earmarks, announced last year, made money harder to come by. Even so, Inouye was critical in ensuring funds for vitally important programs to Hawaii.
For business, he supported significant construction projects at Hawaii's many military bases. He helped the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard - Hawaii's biggest industrial employer, with 4,200 civilian workers - fight the threat of closure in 2005.
He steered federal contracts to Hawaii-based companies, encouraging multinational defense contractors like BAE Systems to establish a presence in the islands.
Inouye supported research in the sciences that have become Hawaii's biggest hopes for diversifying the state's economy beyond the mainstay of tourism.
"His support has allowed us to really attract outstanding faculty in those areas, and it's through their work that the areas are thriving," said Jim Gaines, University of Hawaii vice president for research. "But without his support I just can't believe we would have attracted the kind of people we have."
Inouye got money to start projects that have since taken off, Gaines said, like the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System that will use Hawaii telescopes to search for asteroids and comets that might threaten Earth.
He was a particularly good friend of conservation, something that's particularly important in a state that has more endangered species (more than 400 at last count) than any other.
He secured funds for a program to prevent brown tree snakes from sneaking aboard planes and boats leaving Guam for the 50th state, said Suzanne Case, executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.
Hawaii doesn't have any snakes, and there are no natural predators of snakes in the islands, so brown tree snakes would explode in Hawaii if any started breeding here. This could wipe out Hawaii's already endangered native bird species.
Introduced species like snakes are a particular problem for Hawaii because the island chain evolved in isolation from continents and native species here lack defenses against plants and animals introduced from elsewhere.
Inouye's funding supported public and private efforts to fight coqui frogs, an amphibian native to Puerto Rico that is overtaking parts of the Big Island, and miconia, a plant native to South and Central America that's rapidly colonizing Maui and Oahu forests.
"I think collectively we are concerned that we've lost a champion and it will be harder to get this kind of federal support, even though the work that we do in Hawaii is among the most important in the nation," said Suzanne Case, executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.
On the bright side, Case said, public and private agencies working on conservation in Hawaii have a lot of experience and work well with each other. They'll need to redouble their efforts in Inouye's absence, she said.
Gaines said the senator prepared the university for a day when he wouldn't be in office.
"He's been telling us 'you can't count on me to help you forever,' " Gaines said. "He has encouraged us to make our programs sustainable, and one by one, we've gotten them pretty much into that status."
Jay Fidell, the founder of Think Tech, a Honolulu-based company dedicated to raising awareness about technology, energy and globalism, said Hawaii will need to become more friendly to business and its new congressional delegation will need to work fast to help the state weather the change.
Inouye's successor - who will be appointed by Hawaii's governor - and Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono, who is succeeding Akaka, will need to connect with Inouye's funding sources, Fidell said. So will Hawaii's two representatives in the House, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard, he said.
"In absence of that, Hawaii is a very distant speck to Washington, and we had better get on it right away," Fidell said.