The decision drew an immediate backlash on Twitter and Facebook, but Gov. Neil Abercrombie did not back down when asked why he failed to honor Sen. Dan Inouye's final wish.
Instead of choosing Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to succeed Inouye in office, Abercrombie announced the appointment Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to the U.S. Senate.
"While everyone's voice is heard and everyone's view is taken into account, nonetheless, nothing and no one is pre-ordained," the governor told reporters during a Wednesday news conference.
On Dec. 17, the day of the Inouye's death, Abercrombie received a letter from the senator in which he expressed his wish that Hanabusa succeed him in the Senate. However, Abercrombie said he acted in the best interest of Hawaii's Democratic Party and the state.
"With today's appointment, I am confident Hawaii has the strongest, best-prepared congressional delegation to lead us today, and the strongest, most well-rounded congressional delegation for Hawaii in the years to come," said the governor.
Earlier in the day, 76 members of the Democratic Party's state central committee met in Kakaako to decide on three possible candidates to replace Inouye out of a list of 14. The names forwarded to Abercrombie included Hanabusa, Schatz and Department of Land and Natural Resources Deputy Director Esther Kia'aina. Each SCC member had three votes, and the top three vote-getters were forwarded to the governor.
In a statement, Hanabusa did not express disappointment in the governor's choice.
"Having served as chair of the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee when the succession law was passed, I fully respect the process and the governor's right to appoint a successor," said Hanabusa. "As a member of Hawaii's Congressional delegation, I will continue to work to serve the people of our state, and support our delegation's efforts."
However, Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's chief of staff, was upfront in expressing her displeasure.
"Senator Inouye conveyed his final wish to Governor Abercrombie," Sabas said in a written statement. "While we are very disappointed that it was not honored, it was the Governor's decision to make. We wish Brian Schatz the best of luck."
SCC members told KITV4 an important factor in choosing the three names to send the governor is who could hold Inouye's seat in two elections within the next four years.
"I think we did not want to pick anybody who was not going to run again in 2014 and 2016, and I think it came into play in people's minds in how they voted," said SCC member Lynne Matusow, who also serves as the party's secretary.
Other notable names that did not make the top three list include U.S. Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and the governor's deputy chief of staff Blake Oshiro, a former state representative.
Schatz, 40, is the former chairman of Hawaii's Democratic Party, served four terms in the state House and ran a successful statewide campaign for lieutenant governor in 2010. By the time he faces election in 2014, Schatz will have more than a year and a half in the Senate.
Schatz has already committed to running in two years, and if he's successful, he said he would mount a vigorous re-election campaign in 2016.
"We're going to take nothing for granted, certainly," said Schatz, "but we do have a strong grassroots statewide network."
Schatz received a welcome surprise just hours after the governor announced his selection to the U.S. Senate. According to a White House pool report, Schatz was offered a ride to Washington, D.C. onboard Air Force One Wednesday evening as President Barack Obama returns to the White House to head up negotiations on the nation's so-called fiscal cliff.
Schatz said he would take the same values to the Senate that Inouye championed during more than five decades in office. He said his goal is not to fill the late senator's shoes, but to walk in Inouye's footsteps.
"He was always about leveling the playing field and trying to do what's best for Hawaii, and that's what I'm going to try to do," said the Senate appointee.
As far as the fiscal cliff, a combination of budget cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect next week, Schatz said he already has some ideas of what he would not support.
"We can't have an $800 billion tax increase; we cannot have the sequestration happen, which will really damage our Department of Defense, and we can't have those cuts to social services that are scheduled to happen if we don't avert the fiscal cliff," he said.
Meanwhile, state Senate President Shan Tsutsui, a Maui Democrat, must decide within days whether he'll accept the position of lieutenant governor vacated by Schatz.
Under state law, a vacancy by the lieutenant governor must first be offered to the Senate president. If Tsutsui declines, it's than offered to the speaker of the house, the state attorney general, the director of finance, the state comptroller, the director of taxation and the director of personnel services, in that order.
Tsutsui issued a statement saying he would consult with the governor and his family before making a decision.