Daniel Akaka Retiring In 2012

03/02/2011 07:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

HONOLULU — Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii announced Wednesday he won't run for re-election next year after 22 years in the Senate.

The 86-year-old Akaka – the third-oldest member of the Senate – becomes the seventh recent senator to announce plans to retire.

"It was a very difficult decision for me. However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside," Akaka said in a statement. "I have always strived to serve the people with much love and aloha."

Akaka, the only U.S. senator of Native Hawaiian or Chinese ancestry, suffered a major defeat in December when he failed to get a full Senate vote on legislation granting Native Hawaiians the right to form their own government. The measure, known as the Akaka bill, had been the senator's priority for the last 11 years, but its progress has stalled indefinitely.

Then last week, Hawaii's other senator – Daniel Inouye – said he wouldn't be able to provide Akaka the financial support he has in the past.

Inouye, a powerful force in Democratic circles, gave $300,000 to the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2006 to help Akaka defeat a rival for the party nomination, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case.

Akaka previously said he intended to run in 2012, but he had just $66,000 in cash on hand at the end of the year, far short of the amount he'd likely need to mount a successful campaign.

"We must never forget that we, as political leaders, work for the people of Hawaii and not the special interests," Akaka said in the statement.

Democrats hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, including two independents who side with them. But they must defend 21 of the 33 seats on the ballot next year, and face a struggle to retain control.

Akaka's retirement breaks up the Senate's most senior delegation that used its power to bring billions of federal dollars to the tiny islands. Inouye, also 86, is the longest-serving living senator, having arrived in the chamber in 1963.

"Now, the change is going to happen, and the question is, who can best start to build up that seniority and contribute to solving the problems of the state and the country?" said Case, who hasn't said whether he would run.

Former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who left office in December, has said she would consider a campaign for the seat. Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, who lost re-election in November, also has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate.

Lingle said in a statement that Akaka served the state honorably.

"I worked closely with the senator to gain support for the Akaka bill, and I still have hopes that this important legislation will come to fruition during the remainder of his term," she added.

Inouye said last week that likely Democrats to compete for the job include Case, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's chairwoman, said Akaka would be missed. But she added that Democrats will absolutely keep the seat.

"With a heavily leaning Democratic electorate and their native son up for re-election as president of the United States, we are confident the people of Hawaii will continue to have two Democrats serving them in the United States Senate," she said.

Akaka was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years before winning the Senate seat in 1990.

During World War II, Akaka served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Danny spent his career fighting for our troops, veterans and their families and for the rights of Native Hawaiians," President Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu, said in a statement. "He worked tirelessly to reform Wall Street and to make sure that consumers and small business owners are treated fairly in our system. His voice in the Senate will be missed."

Akaka isn't suffering from any health issues, spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said. He's retiring to spend time with his wife, daughter and four sons in Hawaii.

"He would have run a very competitive campaign, but it would have been painful in that it's not fun to fundraise, to campaign, to give speeches," Broder Van Dyke said. "He certainly could have done it, but at the end of the day, he's served the state of Hawaii for over three decades, and he definitely deserves this opportunity to enjoy his work."