The website Real Clear Politics has called the appointment of an interim replacement for U.S. Senator Dan Inouye “among the most consequential in the state’s political history.”
And what is this about? When all is said and done, it’s about power.
The power of appointment is held by Governor Abercrombie, but constrained by the Democratic Party’s State Central Committee, which by statute draws up a short list of three nominees for the governor to choose from. After years of being more or less irrelevant to actual political power, the central committee suddenly is in a commanding position.
Keep in mind that Neil was never among the cadre of Inouye acolytes. Neil built his own power base, and initially won election to Congress despite, or perhaps because, he was at odds with the senior senator. Over the years, as Neil continued to establish his own base, the two seem to have come to some accommodation, yielding to a sometimes testy coexistence.
So when a letter from Inouye calling for Colleen Hanabusa’s appointment was delivered by two longtime members of the senator’s inner circle of power brokers, it must have been an interesting moment.
According to the Star-Advertiser:
The letter was hand-delivered to Abercrombie by Walter Dods, former First Hawaiian Bank chairman and chief executive, and Jeffrey Watanabe, a retired attorney and chairman of Hawaiian Electric Industries, two of Inouye’s closest confidants, who are among the state’s most politically powerful business leaders.
I wonder if they came to deal and not simply deliver the message.
After all, some have been talking up the possibility of Hanabusa returning home in 2014 to challenge Abercrombie in his bid for reelection. That doesn’t sound like it would leave him feeling warm & fuzzy towards Hanabusa, unless perhaps the emissaries from the Inouye faction of the party offered up something significant in return. What would that be? A free ride in 2014 perhaps? I’m just speculating, of course, but it would have to be something worthwhile.
I’m sure Neil would prefer appointing someone who would strengthen his more liberal wing of the party, and enhance (or at least not undermine) his own place in the constellation of local power. Having someone he trusts in the Senate would be a big help to his personal political interests and those of those his backers.
In any case, you can be sure there’s lots of wheeling and dealing going behind the scenes this weekend.