Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) tapped Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz (D) on Wednesday to fill late Sen. Daniel Inouye’s (D) seat. The 40-year-old Schatz, who is scheduled to be sworn in later Thursday, will join the upper chamber as an unknown figure outside of his home state. Schatz will have less than two years to leave an imprint in Washington before he will face a special election in November 2014.
Here’s a closer look at the man who was plucked from relative obscurity to become a United States senator:
Schatz has lived most of his life in Hawaii, but he was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Oct. 20, 1972. He moved to Hawaii when he was 2 years old, according to a Honolulu Civil Beat profile, where he was raised and attended the private Punahou School (President Obama’s alma mater) before receiving a degree in philosophy from Pomona College in California in 1994.
After college, Schatz returned to Hawaii, where he briefly taught at Punahou and worked in the nonprofit sector. His Punahou alumni profile says he founded the nonprofit Youth for Environmental Service. He also served as CEO of Helping Hands Hawaii, a nonprofit social service organization.
Schatz first entered elected office in 1998, when he began serving in the state House. He went on to become majority whip and chaired the Economic Development Committee.
Schatz remained in the state House until 2006, when he made a run for Hawaii’s 2nd District seat. Then-Rep. Ed Case (D) vacated the seat that year to wage a primary challenge against Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka. Schatz finished sixth in a crowded Democratic primary field, garnering just 7 percent of the vote. The winner of that primary, and later the general election, was Democrat Mazie Hirono, a former state legislator who will represent Hawaii in the Senate beginning in 2013.
In 2010, Schatz won a seven-way lieutenant governor’s primary, joining Abercrombie on the Democratic ticket in the general election. The ticket won easily, and Schatz was sworn in as lieutenant governor late that year.
Schatz will have to keep a close eye on his political standing in the Senate; he is slated to face a 2014 Senate special election, and if he wins that, another election in 2016. Schatz, who will be one of the youngest members of the upper chamber, says he is planning to run both years.
In the Senate, Schatz is expected to be a strong supporter of Obama’s policies. The president is immensely popular in the state where he grew up, and as a whole, the electorate there is very Democratic.
"Just had a nice, brief chat with the President on Air Force One. Looking forward to supporting his agenda in the Senate,” Schatz tweeted Wednesday.
Schatz may also emerge as a vocal senator on the issue of climate change. Abercrombie tapped him to lead a clean energy effort as lieutenant governor. He called climate change “the most urgent challenge of our generation” in remarks on Wednesday.