The third question from the media at a Brian Schatz press conference Friday was about the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

So were the fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth questions.

Even the sixth question was related to Inouye.

A reporter wanted to know how Schatz liked his ride from Honolulu to Washington, D.C., on Air Force One just hours after Gov. Neil Abercrombie selected Schatz to fill Inouye’s seat.

Schatz, who has been asked the question several times before, said the plane ride was “great.”

In the first 24 hours that transpired since Hanabusa officially entered the race against Schatz, the media’s attention has been mostly on how a man who died in December at the age of 88 will influence the election.

Inouye’s Last Wish

Civil Beat asked a question about Inouye in our interview Thursday with Hanabusa, too. It’s an appropriate line of questioning, given that Inouye asked the governor to appoint U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to take his place.

But Schatz had to feel frustrated Friday about the barrage of Inouye inquiries Friday. After all, the occasion was the endorsement of the State of Hawaii Police Officers Union (SHOPO).

U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, Nov. 2, 2010.

The Schatz campaign hoped to make a media splash the day after Hanabusa’s expected announcement. Instead, following a question about making police misconduct records public and another asking about the value of labor endorsements, it was time to ask about Inouye.

First question: Inouye’s widow, Irene Hirano Inouye, endorsed Hanabusa earlier Thursday. Did Schatz reach out to the widow?

(Of note: The endorsement statement was distributed to the press by Peter Boylan, Inouye’s former spokesman; former chief of staff Jennifer Sabas and retired banker Walter Dods, a close friend of Inouye’s, are backing Hanabusa; and Boylan’s wife is Ashley Nagaoka Boylan, Hanabusa’s press secretary.)

Schatz said that he had reached out to Inouye’s widow, describing the conversation as “very warm. … I did ask for her support, obviously she wasn’t able to give it, but it was a warm conversation.”

(Of note: Civil Beat’s Kery Murakami reported earlier Friday that Schatz asked Hirano Inouye for either her endorsement or that she remain neutral in the race. She’s not. “I am honoring one of his last requests, and look forward to supporting Colleen on the campaign trail,” she said in her endorsement.)

Another question for Schatz about Inouye: Take us back to the day of your appointment — an awkward and sensitive matter, the reporter said, given that Inouye had asked Abercrombie to pick someone else.

“Well, the best thing I can do to honor Senator Inouye’s legacy of service to Hawaii and to the nation, is to work hard, to be humble, and to keep the people of Hawaii in my heart,” Schatz replied. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”

But can you share with us how you felt that day? With the appointment?

“At the time, I was just focused on getting off of the plane and starting to do my job,” he said.

Did Schatz try to reach out to the family — Inouye’s family?

“Yes.”

What were your conversations?

“Well … uh, uh uh, you know … uh,” Schatz stammered. “I think the correspondance at that point was mostly around just wishing each other the best and condolences.”

“Last question,” announced a Schatz aide.

Courtesy U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announcing the renaming of Kilauea Point Lighthouse.

It was — surprise! — about Inouye: How much of an issue is Inouye’s legacy going to be, the reporter wondered aloud. Here we are on the first day of the campaign and we’re talking about it. Will it fade, or will it be present a year from now as the primary nears?

“I’ll leave it to political analsyts to determine what are the various strains that will influence the campaign,” said Schatz. “But for my part, Hawaii voters get to choose what kind of future they want. Hawaii voters have an opportunity to make a change. Hawaii voters have an opportunity to think about their kids and their grandkids. And that’s what our campaign is going to be about — it’s going to be about the future.”

That was the last word, and it subtly illustrated a key Schatz argument for his candidacy: that voters, and not the late senator, get to choose who represents them.

But it won’t be the last word about Inouye during the Schatz-Hanabusa match.

In related news, Schatz is expected to deliver brief remarks at renaming ceremony for Kilauea Point Lighthouse Saturday on Kauai. The historic structure is being renamed in honor of — yes — Daniel K. Inouye.

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