By AUDREY McAVOY
HONOLULU — Hawaii honored longtime U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka on Monday by inducting him into the Aloha Order of Merit, an honor reserved for people who have given extraordinary service to the state.
Standing in House chambers at the Hawaii State Capitol, the recently retired lawmaker veered off program to sing “The Rainbow Song” as his sons accompanied him on guitars.
Akaka said the people of Hawaii have a responsibility to share the spirit of aloha. He said that includes sharing aloha in ways that affect foreign policy.
“I really believe this is a mission of Hawaii,” he said.
Akaka served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1976 to 1990, when he became the first Native Hawaiian to reach the U.S. Senate. Akaka, also the first Polynesian-American senator, was appointed after the death of Spark Matsunaga.
Akaka served as chairman of the Senate veterans affairs committee from 2007 to 2011, then became chairman of the Indian affairs committee.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said that when challengers jockeying for Matsunaga’s seat spoke of having the ear of the president or other powerful people, Akaka responded that he had the people of Hawaii in his heart.
“He has carried the people of Hawaii in his heart his whole life,” Abercrombie said. “His name will continue to live on.”
Abercrombie said the significance of the award was shown by the presence of all living Hawaii governors at the ceremony.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, Speaker of the House Calvin Say and other members of the state Legislature also attended the public ceremony.
Akaka retired after not running for re-election last year, opening Hawaii’s first U.S. Senate seat in a generation. He was replaced by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.
The Aloha Order of Merit is one of the state’s highest honors, established by the Legislature in 1993.
Honorees are allowed to serve as emissaries for the people of Hawaii if requested by the governor. They’re selected by a committee and approved through a concurrent resolution in the Legislature.
The ceremony included a medal presentation, a chant and prayer by Akaka’s son, and musical performances.