With the death of U.S. Senator Dan Inouye, the state faces potentially the biggest political shakeup in the past 60 years, as factions within the Democratic coalition compete for position in the new political landscape.
Without Inouye to hold his coalition together, winners and losers will soon become apparent. The selection of a new U.S. Senator is a critical piece of the reorganization.
So how will this decision be made?
As far as I can see, there’s not a lot of clarity
The State Democratic Party’s constitution sets out the broad outlines of the process.
Section 12. Process to Identify Candidates to Fill Midterm Vacancies.
12A. When any vacancy occurs in the U. S. Senate, State Senate or State House that is held by a Democrat, the following process shall be followed to identify candidates who may be recommended to the Governor to fill the vacant office:
1) The District Council shall select candidates if the vacancy is for an office representing a State Representative District.
2) The respective officers of the Precinct Clubs and District Councils affected shall select the candidates if the vacancy is for an office representing a State Senate District.
3) The State Central Committee shall select the candidates if the vacancy is for an office representing the entire State.
12B. The Party Chairperson shall notify the appropriate selection body of the announced vacancy. The selection body shall make a call for candidates who are members in “good standing.” A list of at least three (3) names shall be provided to the Party Chairperson within twenty-one (21) calendar days. The Party Chairperson shall transmit the list of names to the Governor’s Office within three (3) business days of receipt of names.
A member in “good standing” means that the candidate shall have been a member of the Party for a minimum of six (6) months prior to either the date on which the event occurs that creates a vacancy during the term of the office or the public announcement of the office holder of his/her intent to vacate the office during the term, whichever is appropriate and that the candidate is not currently under censure pursuant to Article I, Section 8. No candidate shall be recommended who does not meet all the qualifications for office set by law for candidates who file to run in an election for the vacant office.
12C. If for any reason, the body most immediately affected by the vacancy is unable to fill the vacancy within the stated timeframe, the County Chairperson may recommend the names for an office within the County or the Party Chairperson may recommend the names for a statewide office.
There are many questions left unanswered concerning how the state central committee will make its decision. Perhaps there are additional party rules, but I can’t find them on the party’s website.
For example, how will they vote?
Will the committee have one vote, with the names of the top three candidates forwarded to the governor?
Or, alternatively, will there be three separate votes, one for each of the three positions on the list? Or perhaps cumulative voting, with each committee member allowed given three votes, with the top vote-getters making it to the list?
Maybe cumulative voting, where each central committee member gets three votes and can vote for three nominees, or put all three votes on one person.
Perhaps most importantly, will the most significant political decision in recent years, discussion and voting on the “short list” for this extremely important position, be made in secret?
Legally, I imagine that the Democratic state central committee can close the doors and conduct its business in secret. Politically, however, is this possible?
With the president’s family on Oahu for the holidays, there will be national press corps here to knock on the doors, even if local media are reluctant to challenge what remains of the powers that be.
The party will have to very quickly consider the political damage of insisting on secrecy to the its long-term prospects.
Perhaps readers more familiar with the internal party processes will be able to comment on these different procedural questions.