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Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) official portrait
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D)
Ordinarily, when a sitting senator resigns or passes away, there's a flurry of speculation about who his or her successor might be. But following the death of Sen. Dan Inouye, things might be very different. That's because shortly before he died, Inouye transmitted a personal message to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a fellow Democrat, asking that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be named as his replacement, calling her his "one and only choice." It's very hard to see how Abercrombie could deny the wishes of a dying man, particularly one as revered in Hawaii as Inouye, and especially since Abercrombie confirmed that Inouye was of sound mind when he made his request.

What's more, Hawaii law requires that a successor hail from the same political party as the senator he or she is replacing, and the leadership of the Hawaii Democratic Party will provide three names to Abercrombie, which he can then choose from. So presumably Hanabusa's name will wind up on that very short list.

It's easy to play Great Mentioner nonetheless—theoretically, Abercrombie has plenty of options, such as Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard, or even himself. But as I say, I can't really imagine Abercrombie playing the maverick here. (Hanabusa and Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono reportedly have a frosty relationship, but surely that's not reason enough for Abercrombie to spurn Inouye.) Of course, anything can happen—and sometimes it does. Like they say about baseball, this is why they play the games.

(One side-note: Whoever does receive the appointment would then have to run again in 2014 for the final two years of Inouye's term—and then again in 2016 for a full term. But in a state as solidly blue as Hawaii, Republicans have virtually no shot, particularly when their best possible candidate, ex-Gov. Linda Lingle, got crushed by 63-37 by Hirono earlier this year.)

And if Hanabusa does get elevated to the Senate, then that will trigger a special election in her 1st District seat—the second such special for this seat in three years. Ordinarily, I'd expect a ton of names to come out of the woodwork for a safely blue open seat, but as we saw earlier this year when HI-02 was open thanks to Hirono's Senate run, interest was a lot lower than you might predict. So we could see a free-for-all, or we might see a much smaller affair. We'll just have to wait and see. (Let's just pray ex-Rep. Ed Case does not attempt yet another comeback.)

Incidentally, if you are interested in some trivia about Inouye's long career, UMN's Smart Politics blog catalogs the extraordinary 412 fellow senators who served alongside Inouye during his 49-year tenure. And with Inouye's passing and the imminent retirement of Hawaii's junior senator, Dan Akaka, that would leave New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg as the only World War II veteran in the Senate. Also of note: As the senior-most senator following the death of Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Inouye had been president pro tempore of the Senate (and thus third in the line of presidential succession). Now that honor will fall to Vermont's Patrick Leahy.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 09:23 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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