Daniel K. Inouye’s son making first run at House seat against La Chica

U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono and Brian Schatz, and Representatives Ed Case and Jill Tokuda unveil a portrait of the late U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, with members of Senator Inouye’s family, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell look on last week at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. It is the first portrait of a person of color in the U.S. Senate’s leadership portrait series. (Courtesy/photo)

The son of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye plans to make his first foray into politics at the age of 59 by challenging fellow, first-time Democratic state Rep. Trish La Chica for the House seat representing Waipio-Mililani in 2024.

Ken Inouye bears the same name as his late father but plans to campaign only as Ken Inouye and not as Daniel K. Inouye, he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Saturday.


Inouye has been encouraged to run for political office before but felt the time was finally right for his family.

His 13-year-old daughter and only child, Maggie, wants to campaign door to door with him, Inouye said after returning home from a trip to Washington, D.C., where his father’s portrait was unveiled last week inside the U.S. Capitol.

“In the past I’ve wanted to be able to spend more time when she was younger,” Ino ­uye said. “Now she is older and she has said that she would be interested in walking (the campaign trail).

“I have been encouraged to consider running in the past,” he said. “This time the timing, family-wise, was more right. This thing might have legs.”

The campaign for the August Democratic primary to serve Waipio-Mililani represents an unusual dynamic in island politics: A first-time candidate in Inouye — with a familiar name found on Hawaii’s major airport, a major highway on Hawaii Island and other island landmarks with a built-in political apparatus and fundraising opportunities — against a first-time incumbent.

La Chica originally campaigned for the House but lost in 2020, then was appointed to the then-vacant seat by Gov. Josh Green in February, giving her less than a full legislative session of experience.

Asked about Inouye’s name recognition among voters, Colin Moore — who teaches public policy at the University of Hawaii and is associate professor at the University of Hawaii Economic Resource Organization — said, “For a first-time candidate, it’s hard to imagine having more advantages.”

Inouye should have “an easy time raising money,” Moore said.

But his political name and circle of his father’s political advisers don’t guarantee victory.

Former Council Chair Gary Gill — son of legendary Lt. Gov. Tom Gill, who helped shepherd in Hawaii’s post-World War II Democratic revolution — lost his pursuit of a 2020 House seat to first-time candidate Jenna Takenouchi (D, Pacific Heights-Nuuanu-Liliha).

“Gary Gill has lots of name recognition and comes from another storied Hawaii political family and lost to a first-timer,” Moore said.

It can take just 3,000 votes or so to be elected to a House or Senate seat, and both Inouye and La Chica will have to campaign hard for every vote by meeting constituents door to door and showing up at community events, Moore said.

“You have to meet people and talk to people,” Moore said. “Tricia showed she is a strong candidate (in defeating Marilyn Lee in the 2020 Democratic primary). But she has very few accomplishments you can campaign on, but that’s still more than zero. I think it’ll be very competitive.”

Inouye works at the University of Hawaii West Oahu as assistant to the vice chancellor for administration. His duties include helping to oversee the campus government internship program at the state Capitol.

In an earlier era, while he lived in Washington, D.C., Inouye played guitar in a band called Marginal Man that produced three records and toured much of North America starting at the age of 18. Asked about the band’s genre, Inouye said, “We sprang from the punk scene. We were going to play what we wanted to play. If everyone liked the song, it made it into the playlist.”

Growing up in Washington, Inouye absorbed strong impressions about life in politics.

“The whole family was living it,” he said. “It’s a demanding job and it is a job that can get pretty crazy sometimes.”

At the same time, Inouye said, “you can do a lot of good. You can have a positive effect on your community and the lives of the citizenry.”

La Chica represents one of a record 18 freshmen House members this year and a younger demographic of Hawaii families — and lawmakers — as a 37-year-old mother of two children, ages 7 and 3.

Her husband, Cricket, was laid off from his Silicon Valley-based tech job in July and she understands the economic challenges of Hawaii families.

“I’m a one-income family,” she said. “I know firsthand the daily struggles experienced by working families.”

La Chica joined the last Legislature too late to introduce bills but did introduce five nonbinding resolutions that passed advocating expansion of homeless services in Central Oahu and calling to extend the city’s rail services to her district, among other issues.

She also gained attention by posting a video on YouTube and Instagram of the long slog to get public students to school after the Department of Education canceled 61 public school bus routes.

No matter who wins the House seat, La Chica pledged her support.

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