Gov. Neil Abercrombie apologized on Monday for casting doubt on a letter from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye that urged the governor to name U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa as his successor.
Abercrombie told the Los Angeles Times in an interview last week that whether the letter “could be construed as Sen. Inouye’s dying wish — let me put it this way — is problematic.”
The governor did not dispute that the letter, hand-delivered by retired banker Walter Dods and retired attorney Jeffrey Watanabe in the hour before Inouye died in December 2012, reflected the senator’s preference for Hanabusa. The governor also did not provide any evidence that the letter was not authentic.
But Abercrombie’s comments resurrected speculation, spread by some of the governor’s political allies, that the letter was contrived to pressure the governor to choose Hanabusa. Abercrombie instead appointed Brian Schatz — his lieutenant governor at the time — to replace Inouye.
Schatz and Hanabusa are locked in a close Democratic primary to fill out the remainder of Inouye’s six-year term.
Irene Hirano Inouye, Inouye’s widow, said Monday that Abercrombie’s comments were “hurtful” and “disrespectful.”
“I apologize to the late Sen. Inouye, his wife Irene, his family, friends, and former staff for the comments I made concerning the letter,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “I regret that my comments were interpreted as hurtful and disrespectful to them. That was certainly not my intent. Sen. Inouye was, without a doubt, one of the finest leaders in Hawaii’s history, and a mentor to me.
“Selection of Sen. Inouye’s successor was one of the most difficult decisions of my political career. I had three worthy nominees from the Democratic Party to select from. In my discussions with Sen. Inouye, it was clear that he preferred Colleen Hanabusa. In the end, however, he told me, as governor, you have to make the decision you think is best for the people of Hawaii.”