Welcome to Capitol Watch. There’s a new governor, new leadership at the Legislature and other government branches, and Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

4:50 p.m. Filling Senate Vacancies

State Rep. Maile Shimabukuro will replace Colleen Hanabusa in the state Senate, while former lawmaker Malama Solomon will replace Dwight Takamine. Both are Democrats.

The Abercrombie administration will formally announce the appointments later today.

4:20 p.m. Obama Ahead of Santa Claus?

The President of the United States “will arrive in Honolulu” for his Christmas vacation, but exactly when is not clear.

The White House sent an advisory this afternoon saying POTUS would arrive “later this week” on Air Force One, adding that POTUS and his family (who are already here, shopping in the dark at Ala Moana Center) will return to Washington “after the New Year.”

(CNN says it could be Wednesday night, reporting that there will be an FAA-ordered no-fly zone “with a radius of 10 nautical miles around Honolulu” from 5:15-7:15 p.m.)

“The President and First Family do not have any scheduled public events during their time in Hawai’i,” according to an advisory from the White Office of Media Affairs (yes — they actually used an okina). “There will be pool coverage of their trip.”

2:47 p.m. House and Senate Intrigue

Part I

Six Democrats who want to fill the vacant seat of Dwight Takamine presented their respective cases to Big Island party leaders during a four-hour meeting Sunday in Laupahoehoe, the Hawaii Herald-Tribune reports.

The names of three of those six — Kenneth Goodenow, Donald Ikeda, Lorraine Inouye, Bob Marx, Mark Nakashima and Malama Solomon — will soon make their way to the desk of Neil Abercrombie, who will make the final selection. (The selection process is explained here.)

Big question, though: Does the new senator have to fully embrace the party’s platform? Remember what happened to Gary Okino, who was rejected by his party for endorsing Republican candidates who held conservative views on matters like gay rights. (Read the party’s rules here.)

A similar process applies to filling the seats of Colleen Hanabusa and Russell Kokubun. Which raises another big question: Will all the new blood lead to more changes in Senate leadership and legislation under the young presidency of Shan Tsutsui?

Part II

Which leads us to House chambers.

If Mark Nakashima, the House representative mentioned above, replaces Takamine, the coalition of 18 who oppose Calvin Say‘s speakership loses a member. Whoever takes Nakashima’s seat — ultimately, someone appointed by the governor — will be pressed to join the House dissidents but also be lobbied by Say, who currently lacks only one vote (he now has 25) to return as speaker.

The same scenario applies to filling the seats of Hanabusa and Kokubun: Will they support Say or a new speaker? One school of thought is that Neil Abercrombie will help Say keep his job — he’s got three chances to do so, after all — leaving Say in the governor’s debt.

11:05 a.m. Top Leaders at OHA Investiture

In attendance at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs annual investiture is nice cross-section of elected officials and other noteworthy figures. They include:

From the administration: Brian Schatz, William Aila, Alapaki Nahale and Bobby Hall.

From the Legislature: Suzanne Chun Oakland, Brickwood Galuteria, Josh Green, Faye Hanohano, Gene Ward, Carol Fukunaga, Chris Lee and Cindy Evans.

From county councils: Danny Mateo (Maui) and Ann Kobayashi (Honolulu). (Todd Apo too, now with Disney.)

Also on hand, naturally, are members of the Hawaiian royal societies and Hawaiian trust executives.

Civil Beat will report on the investiture and “The State of OHA.”

9:46 a.m. Goverment Operations Bill Passes Senate

The Continuing Resolution to keep federal government operations funded until March 4 has been approved 79 to 16. Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka were in the majority.

The bill, which replaced Inouye’s omnibus bill — the one slammed by the GOP over earmarks — now goes to the House of Representatives. Check out Inouye’s retort to Republican criticism — truly a great read.

9:20 a.m. Machado Elected OHA Chairwoman

Molokai-Lanai OHA Trustee Colette Machado was unanimously selected by her peers to replace Haunani Apoliona as board chairwoman. Trustee Boyd Mossman of Maui is the new vice chairman.

Apoliona, the longest-serving chairwoman in OHA’s 30-plus year history, said, “On Dec. 26, 2000, the OHA canoe began a journey back into the light — we have come a long way, babies…through storms, into calmer waters.”

Apoliona replaced Clayton Hee, whose tenure is remembered by many as a tumultuous time. Machado said, “I have a big shoe to fill,” to which Apoliona replied, “There’s two shoes!”

Big laughs all around.

OHA’s New Day

Haunani Apoliona will step down today after nearly a decade as chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. New leadership for OHA will be selected at a Board of Trustees meeting beginning at 9 a.m. at OHA’s offices on Kapiolani Boulevard.

Apoliona will then deliver the annual “State of OHA & Trustee Investiture” at At. Andrew’s Cathedral at 10:30 a.m. No doubt Apoilona, who will remain a trustee, will have some choice words to say about the inability to get the Akaka bill passed in Washington.

HTA’s Challenging Year

Despite the double-digit bumps in visitor arrivals and spending, Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, says 2010 was a “challenging” year for the state’s tourism economy. In short, the recovery is not complete; tax revenues have not returned to 2005-2007 levels (i.e., the good old days).

But, McCartney’s end of year message highlights some very good news, including preparations for the 2011 APEC Leader’s Conference next November and the recovery of “nearly 92 percent of the domestic seats lost following the closure of ATA and Aloha airlines in 2008.”

Expect McCartney to be spending a lot of time at the Capitol in the coming months, lobbying his old colleagues and fellow Democrats to keep supporting the HTA — and to keep their hands of the transient accommodations tax and general excise tax.

Waianae Intermediate: ‘Send Us to D.C.’

Twenty students are raising funds to attend a six-day program conducted by the nonprofit Close Up Foundation that allows students from across the nation to “experience democracy in action” in the nation’s capitol. Among other activities, the students meet and talk with members of the U.S. Congress.

“Our students need local community support,” says Waianae legislator Maile Shimabukuro, who ponied up $40 of her own. “Any contributions would be an investment in our community’s future.”

The deadline for the funds is Dec. 30. Contact Momi Robins at Waianae Intermediate School via (808) 697-7121 or via Momi_Robins@notes.k12.hi.us.

Catch up on our previous coverage:

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