HONOLULU – Hawaiian politicians sparred over the correct way to honor the late Rep. Patsy Mink, with Democrats urging voters to cast their ballots for her in November and GOP leaders accusing their rivals of using her death for political purposes.
Mink, a 12-term Democrat who was expected to win re-election, died Saturday after a monthlong hospitalization for viral pneumonia. She died two days after the deadline for replacing her name on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Mink's name will remain on the November ballot along with Republican Bob McDermott and candidates from the Libertarian and Natural Law parties to represent Hawaii's 2nd District. A victory by Mink would prompt a special election next year.
Hours after Mink's death Saturday, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye said that he hoped voters "will indicate at the polls their sense of gratitude to her'' and honor Mink by voting for her.
That did not sit well with McDermott.
"They won't let her rest in peace,'' McDermott said Sunday. "She should be treated with dignity and her name should not be tossed around like some commodity in the name of clutching onto power.''
Inouye said he realized a victory by Mink in November would prompt a special election next year that state elections officials have estimated will cost taxpayers $2 million.
"But I would prefer to spend money to ensure Hawaii gets the best voice possible,'' he said. "I think this upcoming election will be much about Patsy. She will be our guiding light.''
On at least two occasions, voters elected incumbent House members who had died only weeks before: Reps. Clem Miller, D-Calif., in 1962 and Nick Begich, D-Alaska, in 1972.
And most recently in the Senate, former Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan was elected to the Senate despite dying in a plane crash three weeks before Election Day 2000. His wife was appointed to the seat.
McDermott said talk of having a special election angered him.
"They're dismissing our candidacy,'' he said.
"He's telling people to throw their vote away,'' McDermott said of Inouye. "The people of Hawaii are not stupid and I predict that at the end of the day they're not going to throw their vote away.''
Democrats, meanwhile, paid tribute to Mink on Sunday and lamented the loss of one of Congress's most enduring liberal voices. She was 74.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Mink's Democratic colleague on Capitol Hill, said plans were being made for a public service for Mink on Friday in Honolulu, likely at the Capitol.
Abercrombie and Inouye, who attended a meeting between Democratic leaders and union leaders Sunday morning, said House Speaker Dennis Hastert was arranging a plane to bring members of Congress to Hawaii on Thursday.
Inouye said he spoke to those attending the meeting about Mink's legacy.
"Sadly her voice has been stilled,'' he said. "We have to carry on.''