Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz named new Hawaii senator

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii
Official Photo

Updated 9:10 p.m. ET

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, will succeed the late Sen. Daniel Inouye - counter to Inouye's wishes - Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, announced today.  Schatz will fly to Washington, D.C., with President Obama on Air Force One tonight and is expected to be sworn in on Thursday.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged Abercrombie to appoint a successor "with due haste," because Democrats want to have a full roster for critical "fiscal cliff" votes coming up as soon as Friday. When Inouye's successor is sworn in, Democrats will hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate through the end of the year.

Inouye, a Democrat who served as Hawaii senator since 1963, died last week.

Inouye had written a letter to Abercrombie before his death asking he choose Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, as his successor.  "No one and nothing was preordained," Abercrombie said today.

Abercrombie added that if he chose Hanabusa, a special election would have to have been held to replace her, and that "definitely" played into his decision.  "The fact that there would have been a special election, I think, is an obligation to take into account, as well."

"I'm certain that was a real consideration." 

Also, Abercrombie said Hanabusa's growing seniority in the House was a consideration. "Rep. Hanabusa occupies a key position on the House Armed Services Committee," he said, "so it's very vital to continue to have her position on the Armed Services Committee continue."

At least a dozen Hawaii Democrats with an interest in the position each filed letters with the state Democratic Party today and pitched to members of the party their reasons for wanting the position. CBS News learned that the party's top three choices sent to Abercrombie were Hanabusa, Schatz and Esther Kia'aina, the deputy director of Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The 40-year-old Schatz, a former state representative and former chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, will serve a term of two years, and he indicated will run for re-election in a special election in 2014.

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.