Less than 48 hours after Neil Abercrombie became the first governor of Hawaii to be denied renomination, and with the political fate of his appointed U.S. senator in limbo, political observers in and out of the state asked whether these unusual developments had something to do with a politician who died two years ago: Daniel Ken Inouye.
Inouye was a beloved figure from his days as one of the Aloha State's first U.S. representatives after statehood in 1959 until his death in 2012,when he was the senior member of the Senate.
On Saturday, Abercrombie lost the Democratic primary by a stunning margin of 2-1 to state Sen. David Ige. That same day, Brian Schatz, appointed to the Senate by Abercrombie after Inouye's death, was locked in a photo-finish contest with fellow Democrat and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
With Schatz leading Hanabusa by about 1,700 votes out of more than 214,000 cast, the two will have to wait three weeks to see who is the nominee.
Because of the hurricane that ravaged the islands, going to the polls was deemed unsafe in two voting districts casting roughly 4,000 votes. So, the Democratic nominee will not be determined until ballots are cast next weekend from those two districts.
As to why these unusual results occurred, Malia Zimmerman, editor of the much-read "Hawaii Reporter," told Newsmax that "Abercrombie made a number of controversial decisions during his four years in office that alienated his base. One was appointing his lieutenant governor [Schatz] to the seat left vacant when Sen. Inouye died in 2012."
"Inouye had reportedly written a letter from his deathbed, which was hand-delivered to the governor by Inouye's friends, asking the governor to appoint his protégé Colleen Hanabusa to his seat. At the time, Hanabusa was a member of Congress and a former state Senate president. Abercrombie instead chose Schatz."
This political drama was a virtual sequel to the saga of 2008 presidential politics. Six years ago, Abercrombie and Schatz were both early backers of Hawaiian-born Barack Obama (who endorsed Sen. Schatz in the primary this year). Inouye and Hanabusa were vigorous backers of Hillary Clinton.
Throughout the rancorous primary bout with Schatz, Hanabusa repeatedly reminded audiences that Inouye wanted her to take his place. In a race in which both candidates were decidedly liberal Democrats who disagreed on almost nothing, invoking the still-revered Inouye and his dying wish obviously gave Hanabusa a strong hand.
The closest example one can find to this situation is that of Sen. Richard Russell and his deathbed wish to pick a successor. Like Inouye, Russell, a Georgia Democrat, was president pro tempore of the Senate and the most senior senator at the time of his death in 1971.
The late Ernest Vandiver, who had been governor of Georgia from 1959 to 1963 and was married to Russell's niece, told this reporter on several occasions that his understanding was that the senator made clear to then-Gov. Jimmy Carter that he hoped the Democrat from Plains would name Vandiver to succeed him.
But soon after Russell's death in January 1971, Carter named to the Senate close political ally and Democratic State Chairman David Gambrell. A year later, Gambrell was beaten decisively for nomination to a full term by a young state legislator named Sam Nunn. (A furious Vandiver also ran for the seat, placing third in the initial primary and then backing Nunn in the runoff against Gambrell).
In Abercrombie's situation, there are obviously other reasons for his demise. As Malia Zimmerman told this reporter, "Abercrombie, backed by the environmentalists in 2010, alienated them and many who enjoy Hawaii's beauty by facilitating the approval of several controversial development projects."
"For example, in Kakaako, the waterfront area in Honolulu between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, 29 new high-rise buildings with units starting in the millions of dollars will be constructed out of the price range of most in Hawaii. Two other agricultural areas are being turned into a total of 17,000 homes in an already crowded Oahu."
This fall, Hawaii will have a unique three-candidate race with Ige, former Lieutenant Governor and Republican nominee Duke Aiona, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a Democrat running as an independent. In this contest, anything could happen — including the election of Hawaii's third Republican governor since statehood.
A decorated World War II hero who served in both houses of Hawaii's territorial legislature, Inouye was the last of the state's "founding fathers." His legacy is a rich one and his influence, long regarded as powerful when he was alive, apparently also packed a punch after his death.
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