In his last wishes, Sen. Inouye expressed his desire to have current Rep. Colleen Hanabusa replace him by sending a personal deathbed letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, but that's apparently causing something of a stir in Sensible Centrist circles, who are apparently arguing that Abercrombie should fight back against Hawaii's old guard political machine and appoint somebody else.
Political analyst and University of Hawaii political science professor emeritus Neal Milner said Inouye knew exactly what he was doing when sent the letter to Abercrombie. It was meant to put the governor on the spot.
“What’s pretty elegant about this is how straightforward this is,” Milner said. “It’s about as straightforward as it can be and it’s about as dramatic as it can be. It certainly does raise the ante.”
It had been assumed that Hanabusa would be Inouye’s successor when the senator eventually left office, and over the years it appeared the senator had taken a liking to the congresswoman, according to political experts. The two even had lunch just before he entered the hospital.
Milner said it’s also likely that when the senator looked around at his options that he saw a “thin bench” of replacement candidates.
“If you put yourself in his position and looked around to see who was qualified to take his position there’s not much to look at,” Milner said. “The pool gets narrowed very quickly if you look at it through the eyes of the senator. He’s not interested in pulling someone out of nowhere and giving him or her the seat. That just wouldn’t register with him.”
It's also political maneuvering, something Inouye knew a lot about.
Whoever Abercrombie does appoint will most likely serve out until the end of their days in the seat, given the state's politics.
Abercrombie is said by several close to him to prefer other candidates over Hanabusa. They include Blake Oshiro, his deputy chief of staff, Brian Schatz, his lieutenant governor — even Ed Case, with whom he served with in Congress. Case, 60, announced Sunday he was applying for the job.
Age may also be a consideration. Oshiro and Schatz are in their early 40s, meaning they could theoretically serve longer in the Senate and build up greater seniority. Hanabusa is 61 and Hirono is 65.
Harry Reid wants Abercrombie to make up his mind pretty quickly, regardless. We'll see what happens. This flap seems to be all about getting somebody other than Hanabusa in the office, and again a lot of that favors moderate Ed Case. Frankly, I've got no problem with Hanabusa in the office, and I'd take Ed Case in Kentucky in a microsecond, but I think this is meddling with the Hawaii Democratic Party, plain and simple.
I think Abercrombie will go with Hanabusa.