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The case for Colleen Hanabusa

The death of longtime Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye leaves Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) with the task of choosing his replacement from a pool of three options the state Democratic Party will provide. 

While the timeline for replacing Inouye is yet to be determined, one name already stands out as the most likely pick: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa appears to have a good chance at a Senate appointment. (Andrew Shimabuku)

For a number of reasons, Hanabusa makes the most sense as Inouye's replacement. Here are four: 

* Inouye wanted her to replace him: Inouye's office confirmed to The Fix a Honolulu Star Advertiser report that said the senator sent a letter to Abercrombie to communicating that his last wish was to have Hanabusa replace him. Inouye and Hanabusa shared a close relationship: He backed her in a heated 2010 special House election, and she called him her "mentor" in a Monday statement. It's difficult to overestimate the lasting influence Inouye had on state Democrats and Hawaii as a whole. Given that he stated his preference before passing away, there is no way Abercrombie and the Democratic Party can't factor that into their decision. 

* It's (arguably) her turn: Hanabusa considered running for retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka's (D) seat this past cycle, but "after much reflection" opted to stay in the House, averting a potentially messy three-way race for the Democratic nomination. Hanabusa's House colleague Mazie Hirono (D) ended up winning the seat easily, and now, it's hard to argue that Hanabusa isn't next in line to ascend to the Senate. 

* Hanabusa knows Washington: The House has been a natural springboard to the Senate in the Aloha State: Akaka, Inouye and Hirono each served there before moving up to the Senate. Inouye was the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and had cultivated relationships with members of both parties for years. Whoever fills his shoes will be decades away from even being able to think about wielding such influence. But having someone familiar with the inner workings of Congress and D.C. would mean his successor wouldn’t be starting from scratch. And that counts. 

* The other prospects: There are a handful of other obvious options Democrats could look at aside from Hanabusa. But for each, there is argument for why they shouldn't be picked. One is Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D), a rising star on the national Democratic scene. The 31-year-old Gabbard became the first Hindu elected to Congress when she won the race for Hirono's House seat in November. She's also an Iraq War veteran. While a case for Gabbard can be made, she is still very young and just getting started in Congress. Sure, Hanabusa is fairly new to Congress, too. But she served in the state Senate for over a decade before moving up. 

Another possibility might be former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann. But two consecutive bad losses to Abercrombie in the 2010 gubernatorial primary and to Gabbard in 2012 may have taken some of the shine off the Hannemann brand.

One name that isn't likely to be in the mix is former congressman Ed Case. While Case has a congressional resume, his decision to challenge Akaka in 2006 did not sit well with Inouye or the Democratic establishment in Hawaii. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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