Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz was named Wednesday to replace the late Daniel Inouye in the U.S. Senate – despite Inouye's deathbed request for Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to succeed him.
On the day he died, the senator wrote a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie asking that he pick Hanabusa to replace him. All the parties involved are Democrats.
Hanabusa made it to the final round of consideration, but she did not win the nomination, ABC reports.
"The charge of the central committee was to take all points of view into account, from Sen. Inouye and from the rank and file -- the Democratic grass roots," Abercrombie said in a Honolulu news conference Wednesday evening. "No one and nothing was preordained."
Schatz served in the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1998 to 2006. In 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress. He served as state Democratic chairman from 2008 to 2010, until he was elected lieutenant governor on Abercrombie’s ticket.
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A Hanabusa appointment would have given Hawaii an all-female, all-Asian-American Senate delegation. Rep. Mazie Hirono was elected to succeed retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka in November.
Schatz named two priorities for his new job: Native Hawaiian recognition and climate change. "For me, personally, I believe global climate change is real, and it is the most urgent challenge of our generation," Schatz said.
The Hawaii Democratic Party met Wednesday morning to select three finalists for Inouye's seat. Hawaii News Now reported they were Schatz, Hanabusa and Deputy State Land and Natural Resources Director Esther Kiaaina. The news leak angered the party.
Schatz, who will be one of the Senate’s youngest members at 40, said he will run in the special election in 2014 to complete Inouye’s term and then, if successful, to run for re-election in 2016.
“No one can fill Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s shoes — but together, all of us, we can try to walk in his footsteps,” Schatz said, The Washington Post reported.
The Schatz choice was a surprise, given Inouye’s wishes and the esteem with which he is held in the state. But Abercrombie is close to Schatz and he indicated he was hesitant to choose Hanabusa and force a new special election to fill her House seat.
Jennifer Sabas, Inouye’s chief of staff, indicated in a statement that Hanabusa’s selection was Inouye’s “final wish.”
“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,” she said, the Post reported.
Rising Democratic star Tulsi Gabbard, 31, an Iraq war veteran and former Honolulu councilwoman who was just elected to Hirono’s House seat in November, was also touted for the Senate seat by some Democrats.
The appointment of Schatz came at a particularly critical time, with Democratic leaders anticipating a potentially close vote in the coming days on a tax plan designed to avert the most serious economic impacts of the year-end fiscal cliff.