State Sen. Shan Tsutsui, who has served as State Senate president since 2010, accepted an appointment as lieutenant governor of the State of Hawaii Thursday, in an announcement made by Gov. Neil Abercrombie at the State Capitol.
He will replace former Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, who Abercrombie appointed to the U.S. Senate Wednesday after the death of Daniel Inouye.
Tsutsui, 41, was first elected to the senate in 2002, representing the 5th District on Maui, covering Wailuku and Kahului. He graduated from Maui High School and has a bachelor's degree from the University of Hawaii.
During the news conference, Abercrombie said that Tsutsui had accepted the job and would take office immediately under the order of succession. There will be a Lieutenant Governor's office on Maui, and Tsutsui will work out both that office and his office at the State Capitol.
"There's no reason, constitutional or otherwise, to expect neighbor island folks to have to give up their lives on neighbor islands in order to accept a statewide office," the governor said.
"The governor was very receptive to me being a part of his administration, and me playing a very meaningful role, and hopefully, with the good relationships that I've built over the last ten years in the legislature, hopefully those still continue," said Tsutsui, adding, "Although I heard one person say, 'Don't let the door hit you on the way out.'" The remark drew a loud round of laughter, especially from his Senate colleagues.
Tsutsui will see his salary more than double with the new position. As Senate president, he earned $53,773 a year. As lieutenant governor, he will earn $114,420 annually.
State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who is currently Senate vice president, will take over as acting president, but hasn't decided yet whether to seek the post outright. "I have to give this a long, hard thought. I've never really sought the position of presidency, and so at this point I am considering stepping up to the plate and taking that challenge," said Kim.
Tsutsui said he also had considered turning down the appointment. "I did come up thinking that I really wasn't going to take it," he said. "I kinda went back and forth, of course consulting with my family, and many of my colleagues, and so it was just around lunchtime today" that he made the final decision.
"We're gonna be partners," said Gov. Abercrombie. "I think he's going to be happy in that role because it is not symbolic. It is not pro forma. It's dynamic, and it's every day."
Tsutsui's appointment as lieutenant governor means Maui Democratic Party leaders will choose three possible replacements to take Tsutsui's seat. The governor will then choose someone from that list to complete his term.
Under state law, the Senate president is first in line to replace the lieutenant governor. If that person declines position, then the State House speaker would be next in line.