HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
The process to select Hawaii's next senator began early Wednesday morning at Democratic Party headquarters in Kakaako.
There, 72 members of the party's central committee assembled to come up with a list of three finalists to forward to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who later in the day picked the state's no. 2 elected official: Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.
Party Chair Dante Carpenter set the tone for today's meeting, saying "national concerns" are driving the fast-tracked selection process.
"With the recent passing (of Inouye), the call to arms of the Democratic party demands a concerted effort," Carpenter said.
During today's meeting, most of the hopefuls spelled out their case as to why they should be the state's next senator.
This included the three eventual finalists: Schatz, U.S. Rep Colleen Hanabusa and Esther Kiaaina, Deputy Director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
During his two-minute presentation, the 40-year-old Schatz reminded committee members about his liberal credentials and his youth.
"I want to be your senator because I believe Hawaii needs seniority and we need someone who can build it up over decades and decades," Schatz said.
"No one can fill Daniel K. Inouye's shoes but what we want to do today is find the right person to walk in his footsteps."
Hanabusa -- who was handpicked by Inouye to succeed him -- and Kiaaina, a former congressional staffer, cited their experience in Washington, D.C.
"The stability of our nation and our state is at risk, we are looking at the fiscal cliff, we are also looking at another debt ceiling debacle with the Republicans and I believe I have the best qualifications to address those concerns," Hanabusa said.
"I am an expert of the workings of the federal government in Washington, D.C. with over 20 years of experience in public policy, primarily in D.C., Hawaii and the Pacific region," she said.
"Make no mistake: I am qualified for this job."
Sources say voting among the central committee members was close with Schatz receiving the highest number -- about 48 votes.
He was followed by Hanabusa with 42 votes and Kiaaina who received 39.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who was just elected to Congress less than seven weeks ago, came in a distant seventh place with just fourteen votes while former Congressman Ed Case was in fifth place with 19.
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