Sen. Schatz, his wife, Linda, and Vice President Joe Biden
Image: malia paul

The Senate is a pretty exclusive fraternity, and what a rush for Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. On Dec. 26, the 40-year-old former Hawaii Democratic Party chair and onetime Honolulu Weekly columnist was named one of three Party nominees for the seat of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. Within hours, Schatz was appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie over Esther Kiaaina, deputy director of the DLNR, and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, whom Inouye, on his deathbed, had picked as his successor.

“Senator Inouye conveyed his final wish to Governor Abercrombie . . . we are very disappointed that it was not honored,” Inouye Chief of Staff Jennifer Salas commented in a statement, while conceding that the choice belonged to the governor by law. And as a lawyer, Inouye would have known the common law doctrine that the dead hand cannot control an estate in perpetuity–which is, after all, the duration of the average senatorial occupancy.

Clearly, Abercrombie was thinking about the future of Hawaii and the Democratic Party. A former Congressman, he noted Hanabusa’s crucial membership on the House Armed Services Committee, and the risk that her seat might be won by a Republican in a special election to fill it. After all, when Abercrombie left his House seat in mid-term to run for governor, Republican Charles Djou was voted in. Shan Tsutsui, state Senate majority leader, has accepted the lieutenant governorship; at press time, a new Maui senator had not been chosen by Abercrombie.

Giving Schatz a chance to vote on fiscal matters before year’s end–as well as a jump on seniority–motivated the rush, as urged by Senator Harry Reid, majority leader. Schatz hitched a ride on the Wednesday red-eye to Washington with another Democratic Hawaii son, President Barack Obama.

After he was sworn in, Sen. Schatz sat for a bit with Sen. Daniel Akaka. Schatz looked heavy-lidded but happy.