It’s what everyone in town is talking about: Who will be appointed to replace Daniel K. Inouye in the U.S. Senate?

Hawaii will have an answer a week from Friday, it seems.

That’s when the State Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Hawaii will meet to select three names to send to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has the final say. The governor said Thursday he would then choose someone “very, very quickly.”

But who? Someone already in Congress or who has served there? A failed congressional candidate? A former governor? A state legislator? His own lieutenant governor?

Civil Beat handicaps the hottest contest in town.

The Contenders

You’ve already heard the names of U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, who have said they are applying.

Also in the mix is Tony Gill, of the storied Gill Clan (Tom, Lois, Eric, Gary et al). Tony Gill, an attorney, is chairman of Oahu Democrats.

There’s talk that Ed Case may jump in, and also Mufi Hannemann, though both lost their last three tries for Congress.

Case, the former congressman, has been quiet — he didn’t return our calls for a story this week on his 2006 run. But Hannemann has been appearing on local TV news and tweeting like a teenager about how wonderful Dan Inouye was.

In no particular order, those who have applied, or are said to be thinking about applying, for the Senate opening include:

Abercrombie’s deputy chief of staff, Blake Oshiro; state Sens. Will Espero, Clayton Hee and Donna Mercado Kim; and Esther Kiaaina, who worked for Case and Daniel Akaka in D.C. and lost to Tulsi Gabbard in the race this year to replace U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, who is replacing Akaka.

Yes, Gabbard’s name is out there, too — even though she has yet to serve a day in Congress.

What about Ben Cayetano or John Waihee? No word yet on whether they are in the hunt.

Other names might emerge, ones that don’t immediately come to the public’s mind — like Matt Matsunaga, the former legislator, LG and congressional candidate and son of the late Spark Matsunaga.

Not applying for the job: Gov. Abercrombie.

The Open Seat

If Hanabusa is appointed senator, you can take the names of most of the folks listed above as possible candidates in the special election to fill the Hawaii First Congressional District seat, a vote that would be held in about two months.

You can also consider adding Republicans Charles Djou or Linda Lingle.

Too soon, you say, for Djou or Lingle, who both lost big races just six weeks ago? Perhaps. Might be better for them to lick their political wounds and wait for 2014, when the Senate seat and the two U.S. House seats are up for re-election.

The GOP candidates are also broke. Same goes for some of the aforementioned Dems. But it’s a good bet that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee will be paying close attention and throw campaign money our way in a special election.

Question: Does the candidate have to live in CD1? No.

Hirono never lived in CD2 and Hanabusa lived in CD2 when she was elected to represent CD1. She later moved into her CD1 district; when the districts were reapportioned this year, the new map actually moved her former abode into the urban Honolulu district she currently represents.

The Process

It’s easy: Just fill out the one-page “statement of candidacy” (reproduced below) and a one-page biography and send it to the Democratic Party. Click here for mailing instructions.


The application deadline is 5 p.m. Monday.1

Will there be an interview?

Not sure; party leaders and the SCC are still trying to sort out the logistics. It’s the holidays and a lot of people have family and friends visiting or are traveling. To help mitigate those challenges, there’s talk of setting up video conferencing, as many SCC members are on the neighbor islands.

It also depends a lot on how many candidates apply. Should the number of applicants be winnowed down to a “serious” list — sort of like the media does in anointing who is invited to political debates and the like? Will the top contenders meet with the SCC? Is there even time?

The SCC, we’re told, will have updated copies of Robert’s Rules Of Order handy to help navigate the situation.

Will other party members be permitted to participate in the Friday night meeting at party headquarters at Ward Warehouse? Maybe, but when it comes time for executive session, only the SCC will be behind the doors. Could be a very long night.

Party Chairman Dante Carpenter said any qualified Democrat is welcome to apply to be the next U.S. senator.

“I encourage those who feel qualified to apply to do so,” he said. “That is all part of the Democratic Party mantra. The basic qualification is that you must be a member of the party for no less than six months, and everybody is equal as far as I am concerned.”

The Seniority

There’s been a lot of talk about the power of Senate seniority.

Swearing in Inouye’s replacement sometime before the freshmen senators are sworn in on Jan. 3 would, in fact, make that person the senior senator over his or her fellow newbies.

And the new senator would have work immediately to attend to: The Senate is still taking votes on critical issues like Hurricane Sandy relief and possibly a fiscal cliff solution.

Folks in Washington are also talking about who will replace Inouye. Politico, for example, posted an article Thursday titled Mazie Hirono Rival Colleen Hanabusa Could Make History Instead.

In theory, if Abercrombie picks Hanabusa and she’s sworn in before Hirono, Hanabusa — and not Hirono — would be the first Asian-American female senator (though Hirono will always be the first elected Asian-American female senator).

You can imagine just how well that would go over in the Hirono camp. Don’t be surprised if the appointed senator is sworn in at the same time as the elected senator, in which case Hirono would be senior to Hanabusa because she has served longer in the House.

The Decision-Makers


The 82 people entrusted with the selection of three names to send to the governor — that is, the members of the SCC — include some well-known Democrats like state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria. But most are not widely known.2

Yet, it is these people who will identify who could serve Hawaii for decades in Washington, and not voters choosing from a ballot. The members include supporters of Schatz, Hanabusa, Case and Hannemann.

The SCC members are well aware of this responsibility and are taking it very seriously. A bad selection — a senator who is rejected by voters in 2014 — would reflect poorly on the SCC.

But the real kingmaker — or queenmaker — is Neil Abercrombie, and it’s not a guarantee that he will pick the candidate everyone thinks he will pick.

At a press conference Thursday at the Capitol regarding his proposed biennium budget, the governor declined to specify what qualifications he’d be seeking in the successful candidate.

Instead, he said his faith is in the democratic process. (Of note: The SCC could submit more than three names; they are required only to present three minimum.)

Asked how much weight he’d give Inouye’s letter endorsing Hanabusa for the job, Abercrombie said, “I’ll give it every weight.” But he added that he wasn’t even sure her name would be on the list.

Abercrombie said the successful candidate will have strong Democratic principles and meet the general age requirements and other rules. He said he didn’t want to preclude anything by sharing what specific qualifications he is seeking.

But the governor knows this: He and he alone will make one of the most momentous decisions in state history.

Nathan Eagle contributed to this article.

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