Elections
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, who was appointed to the empty Senate seat in Hawaii. (Facebook) Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, who was appointed to the empty Senate seat in Hawaii. (Facebook)  

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz appointed to Senate to fill Inouye’s seat

Photo of Alexis Levinson
Alexis Levinson
Political Reporter

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Wednesday appointed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to fill the U.S. Senate seat left open by the death of longtime Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, passing over U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who was Inouye’s choice.

Schatz was one of several people who applied for the seat that Inouye held from 1963 until his death last week, including Rep. Hanabusa and Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard.

Wednesday afternoon, the central committee of the Hawaii Democratic Party forwarded three names to the governor as their nominees for the spot: Schatz, Hanabusa and Deputy state Land and Natural Resources Director Esther Kiaaina. Shortly thereafter, Abercrombie held a press conference announcing his choice of Schatz.

In a letter to Abercrombie shortly before his death, Inouye asked that Hanabusa be appointed to replace him. But Abercrombie said Wednesday that while “Sen. Inouye’s views … were taken into account fully,” his responsibility and that of the central committee was to “act in the overall best interest of the party … the state, and the nation,” and “no one and nothing is preordained.”

“Everybody has their personal and deeply felt loyalties and preferences, no question about that. … But, nonetheless, you have to take into account, as well, what is in the overall best interests, and sometimes you have to set aside personal considerations in order to look for the good of the whole,” Abercrombie said of his choice.

He said his decision was informed by the need to ensure that Hawaii, which will go from having one of the most senior Senate delegations to one of the most junior delegations, “stays strong in the immediate term,” and the importance of working toward “rebuilding the seniority.”

To that end, he said it was “very vital” that Hanabusa continue to hold her position on the House Armed Services Committee, given the important role that committee plays in Hawaii’s affairs.

“She has an excellent reputation in the House of Representatives. … She has the confidence of the minority leader and the leadership in the House,” Abercrombie said, adding that “the question of establishing seniority in as many venues as we can with our small delegation” was another important consideration in his decision.

Inouye’s chief of staff, Jennifer Sabas, in a statement said they were “very disappointed” that Inouye’s “final wish to Gov. Abercrombie…was not honored,” according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Schatz said he was “humbled and honored” to have been selected, and that he would fly to Washington, D.C. later Wednesday evening to be sworn in on Thursday afternoon. According to the White House pool report, Schatz will fly on Air Force One with President Barack Obama, who is leaving Hawaii where he spent Christmas with his family and flying back to D.C. on Wednesday evening.

“The first thing I will do is reach out to Sen.-elect Hirono, Congresswoman Hanabusa, and Congresswoman-elect Gabbard, and engage in our game plan for this coming Congress,” Schatz said. Then, he said, he would reach out to Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss “pending and urgent legislation,” and next, he would speak to the White House.

His priorities, he said, would be to “identify the various federal funding streams that have been coming to Hawaii and stabilize them as much as possible,” and to ensure that the state will “remain competitive in terms of federal funds.”

“Native Hawaiian recognition remains at the top of the list,” he said. “I believe global climate change is real and it is the most urgent challenge of our generation.”

A special election for Inouye’s seat will be held in 2014, and the winner will serve out the remainder of Inouye’s term, which would have ended in 2016. Schatz said Wednesday that he would be one of the candidates in those elections.

“I certainly do intend to run for re-election in 2014 [and] 2016,” he said. “No doubt about that.”

Follow Alexis on Twitter