POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 19, 2012
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's heartfelt request on who should succeed him will hang over Hawaii Democrats as they meet next week to choose three nominees for his replacement.
In one of his final acts before his death Monday from respiratory complications, Inouye sent a personal letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie expressing his belief that U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa possesses the intellect, presence and legislative skill to succeed him in the Senate.
The letter was hand-delivered to Abercrombie by Walter Dods, former First Hawaiian Bank chairman and chief executive, and Jeffrey Watanabe, a retired attorney and chairman of Hawaiian Electric Industries, two of Inouye's closest confidants, who are among the state's most politically powerful business leaders.
Inouye wrote that he understood that appointing a successor was Abercrombie's responsibility, but asked the governor to choose Hanabusa, who represents urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District. The senator described the request as his "last wish."
"It is with much sadness that I share with you, that I will not be able to complete my ninth term in the United States Senate," Inouye wrote. "While I understand that selecting someone to serve out the remainder of my term is fully your responsibility, I respectfully request that U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa succeed me, and continue the work, together with Mazie (Hirono), on behalf of Hawaii in the U.S. Senate. Colleen possesses the intellect, presence and legislative skill to succeed in the Senate. I have no doubt that she will represent Hawaii with the same fervor and commitment that I brought to the Senate chamber since 1962.
"I hope you will grant me my last wish. God bless the people of Hawaii and God bless the United States of America," he wrote.
The party's state central committee will meet at party headquarters Dec. 28 and decide on the three nominees for Abercrombie's consideration.
Dante Carpenter, the party's chairman, said Democrats hope to forward the recommendations to Abercrombie in time for the governor to make an appointment before new senators, including U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, who is replacing retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, are sworn in in Washington, D.C., in early January.
"That is the target to ensure that we have somebody in place for the swearing-in so we do not lose one second of potential seniority time in the U.S. Senate," Carpenter said.
Abercrombie had discussed portions of Inouye's letter publicly Monday but did not talk about Inouye's recommendation. Inouye's office released the letter Tuesday.
The governor sent a letter to Carpenter on Monday, asking Democrats to choose three nominees to fill Inouye's seat within 21 days, as required by state law. But he also noted the urgency.
"We want to remember and be thankful for all of the senator's good works for the state of Hawaii and the nation. We will do that," he wrote. "However, the president and members of the 112th Congress are continuing their efforts to address fiscal and debt-reduction issues critical to the well-being of our state and the country and the new Senate will be sworn during the first week of January 2013.
"The people of Hawaii deserve to be fully represented in the debates and decisions the Senate will have on those matters in the coming days and weeks," the governor said.
The appointed senator will serve until 2014, after which voters will elect someone to complete Inouye's term, which runs through 2016.
Hanabusa and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz have been mentioned in political circles as the most likely choices.
"I am honored that Senator Inouye has mentioned my name as his successor in the U.S. Senate, but I also want to respect the process set forth in Hawaii law," Hanabusa said in a statement Tuesday. "Succession will be determined in due time. Right now, I believe that our focus should be on honoring Senator Inouye and his tremendous contributions to Hawaii and America."
Democrats on the state central committee said Inouye's request would be considered in deliberations.
"I think it adds a factor that might not have been there otherwise," said Josh Frost, a Democratic activist on the committee.
He said many people expected Hanabusa would be on the short list regardless.
"I think most people knew that she was his preference," Frost said.
"As far as difficulty, I think there will be certain people that will insist that she is the one just because she was Inouye's choice.
"I think the state central committee has the responsibility to look to what is best for the state, and what is best for the party, and the names that are chosen to go to the governor will be what we believe to the best representation of that necessity."
Amy Agbayani, a University of Hawaii educator and an Abercrombie ally on the central committee, said Democrats will consider both Inouye's preference and the requirements of state law that are meant to give the governor options.
"I think it will be tougher because everybody would be taking it (the request) into consideration," she said, "but I think that we will come up with some names."