They were among the oddest of congressional couples. Yet the friendship between Sen. Daniel Inouye, the Hawaii Democrat who died yesterday at a Maryland hospital, and Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who perished in a plane crash in August 2010, proved one of Washington’s most enduring, a bond especially notable in this era of hyper-partisanship.
Less than a year apart in age — Stevens was born in November 1923, Inouye in September 1924 — their personae could hardly have been more contrasting.
Adjectives in Inouye’s obituaries have included “ low-key,” “taciturn,” and “courtly.” None of those descriptions were associated with Stevens. While he was still a power on Capitol Hill, the Almanac of American Politics wrote that “for years, Stevens has been known for — and seems to want to be known for — his terrible temper.” In case there was any confusion about that, Stevens once said of himself: “I’m a mean, miserable SOB.”
Their voting records on most high-profile issues also were out-of-synch. In 2004, for instance, Inouye received a 100 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters; Stevens got a zero. That same year the liberal Americans for Democratic Action also awarded Inouye a 100 percent score; Stevens got 20 percent.
Such policy differences mattered little as they became what the Anchorage Daily News once called “longtime across-the-aisle pals.”
One link they did share was the experience of World War II. Stevens received the Distinguished Flying Cross for missions in the Pacific theater; Inouye heroically lost his right arm in combat in Italy.
Their ongoing connection, though, was an unswerving commitment to funnel government benefits to their two remote states — the Union’s newest, and the only ones separated from the mainland.
The two senators were assured of the backing of the other in their search for the federal largesse known as earmarks. As Inouye once noted, with unabashed pride: “He and I have received the crown of being ‘pork men of the year.’ “
In their latter years, they also buttressed one another when it counted the most.
Stevens went to the Senate floor to pay a special tribute to Inouye’s first wife, Margaret, after she passed away in 2006.
In 2008, Inouye defied his party’s leaders to travel to Alaska to campaign for Stevens’ re-election at a time when the Alaskan was fighting federal charges of failing to disclose gifts from a businessman. Stevens lost that court case (though his conviction was later overturned), and he lost that election. But he never lost Inouye’s support.
At the time of Stevens’ death a bit less than two years later, Inouye said simply: “”I have lost my brother.”
It was a kinship that is rare in life, and nowadays may be non-existent in Congress.