By BECKY BOHRER
HONOLULU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is in line for the Senate Appropriations seat left vacant by the death of Hawaii’s Daniel Inouye.
That would put both of Alaska’s senators — Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski — on the committee, which Begich said will be an “incredibly powerful opportunity” for the state. But he said in an interview Friday that he also expects to carry on the spirit of cooperation between Alaska and Hawaii, forged over decades by Inouye, of Hawaii, and then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, of Alaska.
Hawaii has one of the most junior delegations in Congress following Inouye’s death last month that ended his 50 years in the Senate, and Sen. Daniel Akaka’s retirement after 22 years.
Inouye’s successor, Sen. Brian Schatz, is expected to serve on the Commerce, Energy and Indian Affairs committees. Schatz is Hawaii’s senior senator, having been sworn in last week, ahead of the new Congress.
He said his assignments are “strategically excellent” for Hawaii.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, elected in November to succeed Akaka, is slated to serve on Armed Services, Judiciary and Veterans Affairs.
Democratic committee assignments were shaken up by Inouye’s Dec. 17 death. The Democratic Steering Committee released its updated committee assignments Friday, and they are subject to approval by the full Democratic caucus and the full Senate. Republicans released their expected assignments Thursday.
Begich, Schatz and Hirono are all Democrats. Begich’s other assignments also include Indian Affairs, on which the Murkowski, a Republican, also serves.
Hirono, who was added to Armed Services, said the military’s presence in Hawaii “not only plays a critical role in our national security but also in driving our state’s economy and supporting thousands of jobs in the public and private sectors. I look forward to partnering with my colleague on the House Armed Services Committee, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, in preserving Hawaii’s important role in our national security.”
At the time of his death, Inouye had been in line to maintain his spot on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he had chaired, as well as serve on the Commerce, Indian Affairs and Rules committees. His death has raised concerns across Hawaii about the level of federal support the state might secure in the absence of such a powerful, well-regarded leader in Washington.
Begich said when he was first elected four years ago, Appropriations was one of the committees he’d requested to serve on. With a number of retirements and Inouye’s passing, Begich said he was next in line for the spot. While he said it’s rare for both senators from a state to serve on the panel, he said this will provide “a good, solid punch for Alaska in lots of ways,” particularly with him and Murkowski coming from different political parties.
After Inouye’s death, Begich changed his Facebook photo to one of him and Inouye, and he and Murkowski spoke about the importance of the two states continuing to work together to ensure their needs are met.
“Alaska and Hawaii will always be a unique team, because of our unique separation from the mainland,” Begich said, adding, “Our relationship with Hawaii is only going to get stronger.”