Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Wednesday appointed his lieutenant governor, Democrat Brian Schatz, to fill the state’s vacant Senate seat for the next two years.
Schatz surprisingly got the nod over Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who was endorsed by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye just before he died last week. The choice of Schatz means Democrats will not have to hold a special election for Hanabusa’s seat, which Republicans briefly won control of in a 2010 special election. The appointment is good until the 2014 elections, when another election will be held for the right to serve out the final two years of Inouye's term, which expires in 2016.
In an afternoon press conference, Abercrombie, a former congressman and colleague of Inouye, said he “of course” took Inouye’s wishes into account but felt he had to act “in the overall best interest of the party.” He said he also took into account Hanabusa’s placement on the House Armed Services Committee, a vital post for the military-heavy state.
“No one and nothing is preordained,” he said.
The appointment comes just as the state’s other longtime senator, Democrat Daniel K. Akaka, is retiring at the end of the 112th Congress. Democratic Rep. Mazie K. Hirono won his seat last month.
“I feel very, very comfortable with the choice, and as a result, I think the United States Senate is about to get the value of its newest member — intelligent, forceful, insightful, experienced, committed,” Abercrombie said.
Jennifer Sabas, Inouye’s former chief of staff, released the following statement in reaction to the appointment: "Senator Inouye conveyed his final wish to Governor Abercrombie. While we are very disappointed that it was not honored, it was the Governor's decision to make. We wish Brian Schatz the best of luck.”
Hanabusa also released a statement saying she respects “the process and the governor’s right to appoint a successor. As a member of Hawaii’s Congressional delegation, I will continue to work to serve the people of our state, and support our delegation’s efforts.”
Schatz said he will run in 2014 to serve the remaining two years of Inouye’s term and then run for re-election in 2016.
Before being sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2011, Schatz served as chairman of the state Democratic Party from 2008 to 2010, and he chaired President Barack Obama’s campaign in Hawaii in 2008. Schatz also served in the state House from 1998 to 2006, including as majority whip.
Schatz served for eight years as the CEO of Helping Hands Hawaii, one of the state’s largest nonprofit community social services organizations. Schatz was raised in Hawaii and is married with two children.
“We can succeed if we work together,” Schatz said. “I understand the magnitude of this obligation and this honor and I won’t let you down. Mahalo.”