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Key votes in Senate push Dems to action

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 6:22 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012

With potential votes to avert a fiscal cliff looming, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday urged Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill the vacancy left by the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye "with due haste."

The Senate convenes again on Thursday and could take votes to avoid the federal tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff that would otherwise take effect in January.

"It is critically important to ensure that the people of Hawaii are fully represented in the pivotal decisions the Senate will be making before the end of the year," Reid, D-Nevada, said in a statement.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii's state central committee will now meet on Wednesday morning to discuss the three nominees the party will send to Abercrombie for his consideration. The state central committee had initially scheduled the meeting for Friday evening, but moved the meeting up after hearing about Reid's concerns.

Abercrombie, according to his spokeswoman, had spoken to Reid by telephone last week and the majority leader had asked how soon the appointment could be made.

If Democrats forward the three names to Abercrombie on Wednesday, the governor would make the appointment "as soon as he is comfortable with it," according to Louise Kim McCoy, his spokeswoman.

Naming Inouye's successor and getting the appointee sworn in with enough time to vote on the fiscal cliff will require a precise bit of choreography.

The Senate could have votes as early as Thursday evening.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, Inouye's preference to succeed him, is scheduled to travel back to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday evening and would be in place to take the oath of office before Thursday if she were the one selected.

Others under consideration, such as Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, would have to quickly fly to Washington to get sworn in and make the votes.

The appointed senator will serve until voters in 2014 elect a senator to fill out the remainder of Inouye's term, which runs through 2016.

If the appointment is made early and the new senator is sworn in before the end of the year, the appointed senator would have the edge in seniority over the 12 new senators — including U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii — who were elected in November and are scheduled to take the oath on Jan. 3.

The appointed senator would be Hawaii's senior senator, while Hirono, who is replacing the retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would be the junior senator.

If Abercrombie names Hanabusa or another Asian-American woman, she would be the first Asian-American woman, and just the second woman of color, to serve in the Senate. Hirono would otherwise have that distinction.

Dante Carpenter, the party's chairman, said Democrats agreed to change the meeting time because of the possibility that critical votes in the Senate could be taken before the end of the year.

"We're given to understand that there will be issues in Congress relating to the fiscal cliff (that) may occur before the year's end," he said. "And the (Senate) majority leader has indicated a pressing need to ensure a majority for their activities."

If the state central committee's more than 75 members do not have a quorum on Wednesday morning, an executive committee of about a dozen members, including Carpenter, would select the three nominees.

According to an email sent to state central committee members outlining the proposed rules for the special meeting, each candidate who applies before the application deadline on Monday will have up to two minutes to address the committee on Wednesday. There will be no question-and-answer period.

After the candidates have spoken, the state central committee will go into executive session, where members can speak for or against a candidate for up to one minute each during a 30-minute discussion.

The committee will then hold a roll call vote, where each member can vote for three candidates. The final three will be determined by a plurality of votes. If there is a tie for the third spot, each member will get one vote to break the deadlock.

"There's no question that this is kind of a crisis time and everybody has to just suck it up and rise up to the occasion, I think," said John Buckstead, a Hawaii County Democrat who serves on the state central committee. "It's unfortunate. It's very unfortunate that we got to this point. But here we are."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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