HONOLULU – Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz on Wednesday was appointed the state’s next U.S. senator, bucking the dying wishes of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye about his successor.
Schatz, a 40-year-old former nonprofit CEO who ran with Abercrombie for the state’s top two offices in 2010, beat out U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Esther Kiaaina, a deputy director in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The three candidates were selected by state Democrats earlier in the day.
Four days after eulogizing Inouye in the courtyard of the Hawaii Capitol, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he had to consider more than just Inouye’s wishes in filling his seat.
“Of course Sen. Inouye’s views and his wishes were taken into account fully, but the charge of the central committee, and by extension then myself as governor, was to act in the best interests of the party … the state and the nation,” Abercrombie said.
Under state law, the successor had to come from the same party as the prior incumbent.
Inouye, by far Hawaii’s most influential politician and one of the most respected lawmakers in Washington after serving five decades in the Senate, died last week of respiratory complications at the age of 88.
He sent Abercrombie a hand-signed letter dated the day he died, saying he would like Hanabusa to succeed him, calling it his “last wish.”
“While we are very disappointed that it was not honored, it was the governor’s decision to make,” Jennifer Sabas, Inouye’s chief of staff, said in a statement. “We wish Brian Schatz the best of luck.”
Inouye would be “very happy” with the choice, Hawaii Democratic Party chairman Dante Carpenter said. Schatz has less experience than some older politicians in the Senate but he will be building seniority, which is “critical” to the state of Hawaii, he said.
“In the words of Sen. Dan Inouye – invoked more than once – seniority in the United States Congress is everything,” Carpenter said.
Selecting Hanabusa, 61, would have required a special election in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District. Last time that happened, Hanabusa lost to Republican Charles Djou because of a winner-take-all format that split votes between Democrats.
Abercrombie said the possibility of a special election was a factor, as well as Hanabusa’s “key position” on the House Armed Services Committee.
The governor said she was on her way toward establishing a senior position on that panel, and it’s important for Hawaii – with its four-member delegation – to establish seniority in both chambers.
Schatz will serve until an election is held in 2014. He said he will run for re-election to try to keep the Senate seat until 2016 – the end of Inouye’s original term – and would run again for Senate in 2016 if given the chance.