HONOLULU, HI - Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz of Hawaii was appointed Wednesday to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced the appointment after receiving a list of three candidates from the state Democratic Party earlier in the day. The other candidates were U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Esther Kiaaina, a deputy director in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Inouye died Dec. 17 of respiratory complications at the age of 88. He had sent Abercrombie a letter that day, saying he would like Hanabusa, 61, to succeed him.
"Sen. Inouye conveyed his final wish to Gov. Abercrombie. While we are very disappointed that it was not honored, it was the governor's decision to make," Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's chief of staff, said in a statement. "We wish Brian Schatz the best of luck."
Inouye's wishes weren't the only factor he had to consider, Abercrombie said.
"No one and nothing was preordained," he said.
Schatz will serve until an election is held in 2014. Had Hanabusa been appointed, a special election would have been necessary to fill her seat.
Schatz said he will run for re-election in 2014 to try to keep the Senate seat until 2016, the end of Inouye's original term. He said he would run again for Senate in 2016 if given the chance.
"To the people of Hawaii, I can assure you this: I will give every fiber of my being to doing a good job for the state of Hawaii," Schatz said at a news conference. "We have a long and perhaps difficult road ahead of us, but we can succeed if we work together. I understand the magnitude of this obligation and this honor, and I won't let you down."
Hanabusa congratulated Schatz in a statement.
"Having served as chair of the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee when the succession law was passed, I fully respect the process and the governor's right to appoint a successor," she said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had urged Abercrombie to name Inouye's successor before the end of the year. Schatz said he will leave Hawaii for Washington on Wednesday night and be prepared to be sworn in on Thursday. That would make him Hawaii's senior senator heading into the new Congress, which begins Jan. 3.
Sen. Daniel Akaka is retiring at the end of this Congress, after 22 years in the Senate. Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono was elected in November to succeed him.
Schatz, 40, is a former state representative and a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. He also was a leader of President Barack Obama's campaign in Hawaii in 2008.
In making his case before the party's central committee Wednesday, he said he understood the importance of seniority in the Senate and said that if he was appointed, he would strive to make serving in the Senate his life's work.
First in line to replace Schatz as lieutenant governor is Senate President Shan Tsutsui, but Abercrombie said he didn't know whether Tsutsui would accept the new role. The law states only that Tsutsui must make a decision on whether to assume the post "promptly," Abercrombie said.
Tsutsui would be an "extraordinarily capable" lieutenant governor, the governor added.
Tsutsui said he planned to discuss the prospect with his family before deciding.