The passing of venerable Senator Dan Inouye (D-HI) has brought yet another vacancy to the Senate. Mr. Inouye, first elected to Congress as Hawaii’s original member of the House of Representatives in 1959, won his first senatorial term in 1962. He served continuously until yesterday. Along with retiring seat-mate Daniel Akaka (D), Hawaii had the most senior delegation in the nation. With Inouye’s death and Akaka leaving in January, the state will now have two freshman senators, losing a combined 70 years in seniority.
The Hawaii seat now becomes the 35th in the 2014 election cycle. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) will choose an interim appointment who will serve until a 2014 special election is held concurrently with the regular November vote. The winner will then serve the remaining two years of Inouye’s term, meaning the seat will be contested for a full six-year stint in 2016. Should Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) be appointed Secretary of State, as many believe will soon happen, the Massachusetts, Hawaii, and South Carolina seats will all be going to special election in 2014 with a regular election for the same seat following two years later.
In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley (R), surprising many who believed would act after the first of the year, announced that she will appoint Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1) to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R). Though it was widely reported that Haley was working from a list of five possible appointment candidates, it was viewed that the choice was really between Scott and former First Lady Jenny Sanford.
DeMint will reportedly resign prior to the new Congress convening on Jan. 3. This will allow Scott to be sworn in for a full session. He likely will run in the 2014 special election and, if successful, will earn the right to serve the entire four years of DeMint’s remaining term. Scott would be eligible to seek a full six-year term in 2016. The congressman enjoys the strong support of the most conservative elements of the South Carolina Republican Party and at least begins in a very strong position to become a consensus 2014 GOP candidate. He will become the first African-American to represent South Carolina since Reconstruction.
Should the schedule for senator-designate Scott taking office be as described above, then a special election cycle for his 1st District House seat will occur in March (party primaries) and April (special general). Gov. Haley will set the special election schedule once the resignations become official.
Hawaii has a slightly different succession system than South Carolina. Though Gov. Abercrombie will choose Inouye’s replacement, who will serve until a 2014 special election, Hawaii election law requires Abercrombie to appoint a person who is a member of the same party as the vacating senator. This is not much of an issue because Abercrombie, like Inouye, is a Democrat. A further difference is that the affected political party, in this case the Democrats, will officially submit three names to the governor, who then must choose one.
Only five people have represented Hawaii in the Senate during its entire history as a state. Aside from Inouye and Akaka, the others are Democrats Oren Long and Spark Matsunaga, and Republican Hiram Fong. Hawaii voters have never defeated an incumbent senator seeking re-election. Therefore, assuming Abercrombie appoints someone who will run in the special election, such person will enjoy a huge advantage when facing the voters in 2014 and beyond.
It will be interesting to see if the Democratic Party leaders include their state’s US Representatives on the official appointment list that they will give Abercrombie. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1), from a district that Republican Charles Djou won in a special but then lost in the regular 2010 election, has only one full term of seniority. Honolulu City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard (D) was elected to the House for the first time in November and has yet to even take her 2nd District office. If either are chosen, then special House elections would be called to fill the vacancy.