Hawaii governor taps Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz as new U.S. senator

Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 8:44am

(CNN) -- Hawaii's governor announced Wednesday that Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz will fill the seat in the U.S. Senate left vacant after the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Schatz, 40, is a former state legislator and executive of a nonprofit group.

Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie was widely expected to appoint Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to the seat. Hours before Inouye died of respiratory complications at age 88, he named Hanabusa as his preferred successor.

"Of course Senator Inouye's views and his wishes were taken into account fully," Abercrombie said. "But the charge of the central committee and by extension then myself as governor, was to act in the overall best interest of this party. ...

"The law makes explicitly clear as does the rules of the Democratic Party, that ... everyone's voice is heard and everyone's view is taken into account -- nonetheless, no one and nothing is preordained," he continued.

Schatz said he would seek election to a full term in 2014, when a special election will be held to fill the spot until 2016, which would have been the end of Inouye's ninth term.

"I am honored to serve in this capacity, and I can assure you that if given the opportunity, I will make Hawaii proud," he said. "I'm going to work very hard, and I understand the road ahead is going to be challenging for all of us, but it also is potentially a hopeful time to rebuild as a united congressional delegation."

Schatz served in the Hawaii state Legislature from 1998 to 2006, including as the majority whip and in committee leadership positions involving the environment, education, and commerce.

As lieutenant governor, he has led efforts relating to clean energy as well as private and public investment in the state.

He previously led one of the state's largest non-profit social services organizations.

Schatz will immediately be faced with pressing business in Washington, where congressional leaders and President Barack Obama are negotiating a deal to avoid automatic year-end tax increases and spending cuts.

Obama was scheduled to fly back to Washington from his Christmas vacation in Hawaii on Wednesday night, and a White House official said Schatz would fly back with Obama.

He is expected to be sworn in on Thursday afternoon.

Inouye's Senate seat was vacant for a little over a week. Mindful of upcoming legislation in the Senate -- including potential measures to avert the year-end fiscal cliff -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on Abercrombie to name a successor as quickly as possible.

Abercrombie said that his decision was in the "overall best interest" of the state and that "sometimes you have to set aside personal considerations in order to look for the good of the whole."

"Now that Sen. [Daniel] Akaka has retired and Senator [Daniel] Inouye has passed away, that Representative Hanabusa occupies a key position on the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives," he said.

"She has an excellent reputation in the House of Representatives. I know that from my contacts with people that I've known for more than two decades in the house, she has the confidence of the minority leader and the leadership in the house and I think as well the question of establishing seniority in as many venues as we can with our small delegation is another foremost consideration."

The island state has two seats in Congress. The state's other congresswoman, Rep. Mazie Hirono, was elected to Akaka's seat in November.

With five decades in the Senate, Inouye had been the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history. He had represented Hawaii in Washington since statehood in 1959. He died December 17.

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