When legendary Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii died last week, it was a great loss to the nation, but it was also a loss for the Senate Democratic caucus -- with key votes coming up, Dems found their majority shrinking from 53 seats to 52. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) reached out to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie with a simple message: hurry up and pick a successor "with due haste."
Yesterday, he did.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie named his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to fill the Senate seat left vacant following the death of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D).Abercrombie, a Democrat, chose Schatz from a list of three finalists forwarded to him by the state Democratic party. Inouye, who served almost 50 full years in the Senate, died on Dec. 17."No one can fill Sen. Daniel K. Inouye's shoes, but together, we can all try to follow in his footsteps," Schatz said in a press conference in Hawaii.
As Ezra noted on the show last night, the choice is not without controversy. When his health deteriorated, Inouye specifically asked Abercrombie to appoint Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) to fill his seat in the event of his death. That the governor ignored a dying hero's wish is likely to cause political troubles for Abercrombie back home.
Indeed, to appreciate the larger context, it's also worth noting that while the governor respected Inouye, the two "weren't exactly best friends." Inouye actually urged a different candidate to run for governor in 2010, even when Abercrombie was the frontrunner.
Regardless, Schatz will serve until 2014, at which point there will be a special election to fill out the remainder of Inouye's term. If the incumbent wins, he'll have to run once again in 2016 for his own full term.
The next question, of course, is what kind of senator Schatz is likely to be.
Not well known outside of Hawaii, the senator-designate arrives in Washington as something of a blank slate, but some key details on his resume nevertheless jump out. Schatz was, for example, the chair of the Hawaii Democratic Party and a top official in the 2008 Obama campaign in Hawaii. In fact, Schatz appears likely to be a very loyal ally to the president going forward -- he specifically emphasized last night that he's "looking forward to supporting his agenda in the Senate."
Also note that Schatz, 40, is extremely young for the chamber. That detail likely mattered a great deal to Abercrombie -- Hawaii benefited from the seniority of its Senate delegation, which quickly vanished over the last two months. By appointing a young senator, who'll serve alongside Senator-elect Mazie Hirono (D) who was just elected last month, the governor may have been motivated by a long-term strategy for the state.
As for Schatz's policy priorities, it's also worth noting that he's described the climate crisis as "the most urgent challenge of our generation," which is an encouraging sentiment.
Schatz is headed to DC today, hitching a ride on Air Force One, and will be sworn into office later today.