Bart Dame is (in my opinion and others) one of the most incisive and knowledgeable observers of the Hawai’i political scene. In comments to a Civil Beat article showing that Senator Brian Schatz (D-progressive) is polling ahead of Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-ConservaDem) he responds to most of the Hanabusa Campaign talking points.
First he refutes the idea that because Abercrombie appointed Brian Schatz on Sen Inouye’s passing, Schatz is somehow connected to Abercrombie:
“I suggest the assertion Schatz is “one of Abercrombie’s guys” is not useful for analyzing what is going on. It may be useful as a weapon for attacking Schatz by trying to taint him with the faults of Abercrombie. But it does not reflect the facts. Many of us hold politicians in contempt for “spinning” the truth, playing with facts to make themselves look better and cast blame on their opponents. I suggest we are no better than that if we resort to the same tactics in our “anti-establishment” zeal.Where does this claim about Schatz come from? OK, Schatz was Neil’s LG [Lt. Gov]. Sorry. That does not provide any support for your claim against Schatz. In Hawaii, the primary voters pick the LG, not the Governor. The people of Hawaii cast almost twice as many votes for Schatz as for Bobby Bunda, his nearest rival in a crowded field.
Abercrombie did not support Schatz over his primary opponents and Schatz was very careful to steer a middle path between Neil and his opponent, Mufi Hanneman.”
He goes on to explain Hawaii’s process for appointing an office-holder when a seat becomes vacant mid-term:
“Perhaps you think Schatz is “Abercrombie’s guy” because the Governor picked him to become the US Senator? The Democratic Party’s “board of directors,” the SCC, a group of about 80 people from across the state, had the responsibility for presenting 3 names to the Governor from which to make that selection. I was part of that process and we wrestled with the question of whose names to move forward. There was no uniform set of criteria for evaluating the names. But, in broad terms, these are the kind of considerations we weighed:First, the pool was limited by law to Democratic party members. Second, we gave weight to whether the nominees would be able to mount an effective campaign in 2014, when the appointed term comes to an end. Some people suggested a “placeholder” appointment of someone who would NOT run in 2014 and those arguments were also considered.
I do not know how conversant you might be with the pool of potential Democratic US Senators from Hawaii. It is not a large group of names. We did not necessarily limit ourselves to current officeholders, but that was a good place to start. Former elected officials were also considered, including ex-governors. Shinseki’s name was floated. At least one prominent businessman. We interviewed everyone who submitted their name or whose name was submitted by others, with their approval. Some were delusional “vanity” candidates, IMO.
In the end, we came up with Schatz, Hanabusa and Esther Kiaaina. I would defend those choices. And each of them received the support of a majority of the SCC members, even though each had their own base of supporters who favored them as the first choice. There was a significant gap in support between the third and fourth place name. I am giving away no secrets in sharing this. It can be gleaned from news accounts from the time.
A strong case could be–and was–made for each of those three nominees. But it was up to the Governor to pick. I honestly could have supported whichever one he chose. Not because I support everything Abercrombie does–I clearly do not. But because each was qualified in different ways.”
Dame touches on the subject of whether the candidate had the campaign and donor base to hold on to the seat in the face of a Republican challenge. Esther Kiaania, although a well-qualified candidate had run a lackluster campaign for the House just before then finishing out of the frontrunners of the primary, so the Governor may have excluded her for that reason. (He had appointed her as deputy director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, so he clearly thought highly of her.)Had the Governor appointed Colleen Hanabusa, it would have opened her House seat to a winner-take-all special election. The last time that happened for that seat, it was captured by Republican Djou as the two Democratic candidates split the vote. That would have been a disaster for both Hawai’i and the Democratic party. When Djou was last in office, he voted against the jobs stimulus which provided $millions to employ Hawaii residents during the worst of the economic downturn.
So really his only reasonable and practical choice was Brian Schatz.
Dame goes to chastise a commentator for repeating the formerly right-wing attack on Sen Inouye as being some sort of royalty able to dictate what the Democratic party does. The Hanabusa campaign has picked up this talking point and uses it to justify her primary challenge to incumbent Brian Schatz:
“The strongest argument made against Abercrombie’s selection of Schatz–and when I say “strongest,” I mean the most politically effective argument, not the most logical– is the accusation he should have “honored” Senator Inouye’s dying request that Hanabusa be appointed. (I do not hear you making that argument).I think that argument is cheap and disingenuous. And, ironically enough, disrespectful to Senator Inouye, by suggesting he be treated as a dying king wanting to name his own heir. The insinuation Inouye saw himself as the top political boss, even as an “Emperor” of Hawaii politics was a recurring accusation coming from the political right which Democrats had fought against for years.
Yet here, just as Senator has died, this is how his closest operatives are insisting we should view Inouye? Forgive my French, but WTF? I had rejected that charge from the Right and was not willing to fall for it from people trying to retain control of the power which was now slipping from their grasp.
Senator Inouye DID want Hanabusa appointed. In his view, she was the one most likely to hold together the team of people he had assembled over the years, the so-called “Team Inouye,” a group of staffers, close allies, lobbyists, defense contractors, campaign contributors and political insiders who wanted to continue both his policies and the stream of “pork” he had proudly brought back to the state and had distributed with them largely determining where it went and who got it.
But Inouye was only offering HIS advice, not issuing a decree, not assuming his “dying wish” must be obeyed by the Governor. The way top banker Walter Dods and HECO chair Jeff Watanabe played up the letter to Abercrombie, with top Inouye staffers standing barely concealed in the shadows, was disrespectful to both democracy and the Senator, in my view. (I say that knowing it will anger people I would rather NOT have angry at me).”
Dame then takes on Hanabusa’s talking point claiming she’s more experienced.
“At the time, Senator Hanabusa was clearly the more experienced legislator than Schatz. I said at the time, she would probably be better equipped to “hit the ground running.” But, contrary to your impression, Schatz is no “empty suit.”If you are unaware of his qualifications and achievements, let me suggest that reflects more on your lack of familiarity with Hawaii politics, the legislative process and the world of non-profits. It is not your fault you are unfamiliar with these things. But I think you make a mistake when you rely upon your lack of knowledge to make bold statements.
The argument that Schatz is young enough to acquire significant seniority for the benefit of Hawaii may be distasteful to you. But it arises from the nature of power in the Senate and is not something invented by Brian Schatz or Neil Abercrombie.
It is ironic that Hanabusa’s campaign, which brags about her political “Real Politic”–her ability to operate in the “real world” of hard-nosed politics, should now feign indignation that “seniority” should be considered a legitimate criterion in an election.
Both Senators Inouye and Akaka remained in office, unable to retire, because they had acquired so much seniority that their loss of seniority would hurt the people of Hawaii. The decision to convince Akaka to retire was made, perhaps too late, with the hope Senator Inouye would remain in office long enough as Akaka’s replacement slowly climb the seniority ladder.
All politically astute Democrats knew this, most definitely including Team Inouye’s top operatives. So it is disingenuous for them to now act as if it is “unworthy” for Schatz supporters to point to his youth and potential seniority as one argument in his favor. “Why do you dislike older people?” (I write this as someone only two years younger than congresswoman Hanabusa).”