First things first. I have nothing against Brian Schatz. Young, energetic, liberal, did some small time in the State House, has been the obedient, second-office man as lieutenant governor. No mis-steps.
But also no track record of promoting or shepherding legislation. Your basic nice guy waiting to be discovered.
And now he will be our senior U.S. senator, sworn in before elected U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. He’s appointed for two years, then will stand for election at age 42.
It’s a puzzlement. Not just that he was picked over the late Sen. Dan Inouye’s preferred successor, Colleen Hanabusa, but that he was on the list at all. We’ve sent a babe-in-the-woods to Washington to do a job usually entrusted to someone wise in the ways of Capitol Hill and the White House.
Who would have been my choice if the choice were not limited to three Chosen Few of the State Democratic Party?
Ed Case. He was a superlative member of Congress and has twice fought for that Senate seat. But it would have to have been a cold day in Hawaii for the party to pick such an independent mind.
Schatz properly said he was “honored” and “humbled” by the appointment, but I have to guess the folks in the Inouye and Hanabusa camps were “hurt” and “horrified” by the choice.
The only one who knew she was a loser from the start was Mazie Hirono. Because we wanted a senator in on the “fiscal cliff” talks right away, whoever was picked was destined to be sworn in before she was and therefore make her forever “Hawaii’s junior senator” in news stories. If you know Mazie, that hurts! Junior to a guy who’s barely earned his political chops. Lieutenant governor of Hawaii for two years isn’t the big leagues.
Some people I know would have chosen Esther Kiaaina, No. 3 on the party list. She’s whip-smart but not a political operative. A very nice, get-along person. Like Dan Akaka.
Case being a no-go from the start, I’d probably have gone with Hanabusa as the next best political card in the deck. Her candidacy suffered a blow because the Inouye folks made public the dead senator’s anointment choice to try to force Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s hand. We all know Neil. He does not take well to having his hand forced.
And consider this connecting of dots: Inouye backed Hillary Clinton in ’08 over Obama, and Hanabusa followed Inouye. Schatz was one of the first into the Obama boat, chairing his ’08 Hawaii campaign. Neil was also with Obama from the start.
Plus, he and Schatz get along like peas in a pod. Schatz plays good, no-show-off second fiddle. And the Schatz choice avoids a free-for-all for Hanabusa’s critical congressional seat, which might have resurrected many now-dead Republicans.
OK, what’s done is done. Schatz gets the better office and the better committee seats. Hirono steams briefly. Case and Djou know they’ll be practicing law the rest of their lives.
Lingle starts raising money to oppose Schatz in 2014.