Hawaii's Lieutenant Governor to Succeed Inouye

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HONOLULU -- Hawaii's lieutenant governor, a rising political star here who is unknown on the national scene, will become the state's next United States senator, filling a leadership vacuum in Honolulu and in Washington after the death of Senator Daniel K. Inouye last week.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced Wednesday that the lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, would succeed Mr. Inouye, who represented Hawaii in Congress for half a century.

Mr. Schatz, 40, said he was would fly immediately to Washington so he could be sworn in on Thursday.

The decision capped a weeklong, "American Idol"-style selection process. Fourteen candidates applied for the position, and the state Democratic Party narrowed the pool to three finalists. The governor then made his decision.

It was a diverse and eclectic lot who applied. Besides Mr. Schatz, there was the son of a former lieutenant governor, two pilots, a handyman's apprentice and an Iraq veteran who was elected to her first term in Congress last month.

The process, criticized by some Democrats here as confusing and chaotic, ultimately resolved a political quandary that had ramifications far beyond Hawaii's shores. With a bitter partisan feud over taxes and spending playing out 5,000 miles away in Washington -- a dispute in which every vote in Congress is being carefully counted -- Senate Democrats can scarcely afford to have their 55-to-45 majority drop by 1.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, pressed his case for a quick appointment over the weekend, urging Governor Abercrombie to name a replacement "with due haste."

Under Hawaiian law, the governor appoints the replacement when there is a Senate vacancy. But the law sets limitations on his powers to ensure that the new senator is a member of the same political party as the person who vacated the seat.

The state party chooses three candidates and sends those names to the governor. The governor must make his choice from that list.

Aside from the potential snags that come with such a multilayered selection process, this political drama played out against the backdrop of one of the most serious upheavals in Hawaiian political history.

Hawaii has had only five senators since it became a state in 1959. And in all but four of those years, Mr. Inouye, a towering figure in Hawaii who helped shape the state's modern identity, had been one of them.

Shortly before he died, he asked Mr. Abercrombie to appoint Representative Colleen Hanabusa, who is one of Hawaii's two House members.

But Democrats say that Mr. Abercrombie was always tempted to appoint his lieutenant governor, who moved to Hawaii as a boy and served as a party leader before becoming the state's No. 2 executive.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr. Abercrombie said, "No one and nothing is preordained." Mr. Schatz will have to run for the seat in 2014 to finish the last two years of Mr. Inouye's term.

The open nature of the nominating process has meant that aspiring politicians have sprung from the woodwork. And on Wednesday morning, the self-nominated candidates filed into the Democratic Party headquarters here and gave two-minute speeches in front of the party's central committee outlining why each would make a good senator.

The behind-the-scenes lobbying since Mr. Inouye's death last week has been fierce, Democrats said. "I had 10 messages left on my cellphone even though it says do not leave a message," said Fran Kagawa, a member of the central committee. "My answer was, 'No, I'm in mourning.' "

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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