Inouye's Open Senate Seat Goes to Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (right) applauds Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz at the state Capitol in Honolulu on Dec. 26. 2012 after the governor announced he was appointing Schatz to fill the seat vacated by the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.  (National Journal)

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced at a press conference Wednesday that he had appointed Democratic Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye.

The choice was a surprise -- Rep. Colleen Hanabusa was considered the heavy favorite, thanks in part to a letter Inouye wrote Abercrombie prior to his death indicating his last wish was for the congresswoman to replace him in the Senate. The selection of Hanabusa would have triggered a special election for her House seat.

The Hawaii's Democratic Party's State Central Committee, tasked with choosing three candidates for the seat, earlier Wednesday selected Hanabusa, Schatz and former House candidate Esther Kia'aina.

"No one and nothing was pre-ordained," said Abercrombie at the announcement, in reference to the fact that he didn't choose Hanabusa despite Inouye's wishes. He called the choice in the best interests of the party, the state, and the country.

Schatz indicated that he will leave tonight for Washington, and will be sworn in Thursday afternoon. He said he would try to walk in the late senator's footsteps, though no one could fill his shoes.

"Of course Senator Inouye's views and wishes were taken into account fully," Abercrombie said in response to a question, after which he reiterated that nothing was "preordained." He proclaimed himself "very comfortable" with the choice.

The governor said the special all-party, no-primary House race that would have resulted from a Hanabusa appointment was something that needed to be taken into account as well. When Abercrombie resigned from the House to focus on his run for governor in 2010, RepublicanCharles Djou took advantage of a split Democratic field to win the Democratic-leaning seat in the special election.

Abercrombie also noted that it was important for Hawaii to build back seniority across all of its federal offices after Inouye's death and Sen. Daniel Akaka's retirement this year. Schatz, who is 40 years old, is younger than anyone currently serving in the Senate.

Schatz will serve in the Senate until 2014, when an election can be held to fill the rest of the term, which ends in 2016. He said at the press conference that he planned to run for reelection.