Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s appointment of Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to replace the late Sen. Daniel Inouye may have ignited an internal Democratic Party firestorm. As was well-reported, Sen. Inouye, soon before his death, had communicated his desire to the governor and his staff of having Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) replace him.
Under Hawaii succession law, it was up to the Democratic Party — since the vacating federal official was a member of that particular political organization – to convene and provide the governor the names of three individuals, one of which he would be compelled to choose. (The appointee serves until the next regular election – the November 2014 general, in this instance. Since Inouye was re-elected to a full six-year term in 2010, Schatz will now serve until 2014. The winner of the next election then serves the balance of the six years. The seat next comes in-cycle in 2016. Senate-designee Schatz has already said he will run in the 2014 special election.)
Earlier this week, the 75-member Democratic State Central Committee officially sent Gov. Abercrombie the names of Lt. Gov. Schatz, Rep. Hanabusa, and deputy state Land and Natural Resources Director Esther Kia’aina, herself a 2010 congressional candidate. Abercrombie, in what proved a surprising move to Washington observers but was not characterized as such in Hawaii, chose his lieutenant governor instead of Hanabusa. Now, it appears that both Abercrombie and Schatz could face primary opposition in 2014.
Reports emanating from Hawaii say that Hanabusa was upset at not being chosen, particularly after Sen. Inouye had made his desires known publicly. She becomes a focal point in what could result in a serious primary challenge to either Schatz or Abercrombie. Many Hanabusa supporters are reportedly encouraging her to challenge the governor for re-nomination.
Others could be factors, too. Fourteen people officially applied to the Democratic Party for consideration including the three who were nominated and Rep.-Elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2), former congressman and Senate candidate Ed Case, two state senators, and a former state legislator and gubernatorial chief of staff. This may constitute a group of individuals who could run statewide in 2014.
Schatz will be sworn into office quickly. He will have to hit the ground running to establish a stronger political base for 2014. Though he won the 2010 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, he ran on the same ticket with Abercrombie, meaning he did not stand before the general electorate in his own right. Hawaii already appears to be evolving into an unexpected 2014 political battleground.