Who Will Lead If Inouye and Abercrombie Leave Office?

Ed Morita/edmorita@me.com

Democratic Party of Hawaii insiders are quietly beginning to talk seriously about the possibility that the state's top two elected officials may not seek re-election.

By most indications, Gov. Neil Abercrombie will run for re-election in 2014 and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye will run for re-election in 2016.

In fact, both leaders tell Civil Beat that their intention is to do exactly that.

"I made an announcement several months ago, and I intend to keep that unless a truck runs over me," Inouye told Civil Beat Monday.

Abercrombie assured Civil Beat he was running for re-election, saying he could not accomplish in one term his ambitious New Day agenda. It includes working on food sustainability, clean energy, workforce housing and the state's unfunded liabilities in employee pensions and health benefits.

"I want continuity," he added. "I'm not running for anything else. I have no other agendas. So the rest of that political intrigue can take place around me."

But Democratic Party members aren't so sure.

In the case of Inouye, 88, there is growing concern he may not finish his current term. For Abercrombie, 74, there could be an intraparty battle over who should head the gubernatorial ticket, or he could decide not to run again.

Neither scenario is unheard of. Sen. Spark Matsunaga died in office, and Gov. John A. Burns was challenged by his own lieutenant governor, Tom Gill.

Civil Beat spoke to nearly a dozen people within the party, none who would speak on the record.

In keeping with our policy, we agreed to grant anonymity to party insiders who we believe are in key positions and have information that would not be available unless their identities are protected. A sea change in the political leadership of Hawaii should Inouye or Abercrombie leave office warrants protecting these sources, we believe.

These sources say transition scenarios are being discussed, at least informally, because the departure of Abercrombie and especially Inouye would represent a dramatic shakeup in Hawaii government and politics.

The scenarios involve a handful of key Democrats who would like to serve in higher office. Because of the need to organize a campaign and raise campaign money, however, groundwork must begin soon.

Among the challenges for Democrats is that the party, despite its dominance of Hawaii politics and government, does not presently have a deep bench when it comes to potential governors and senators.

Hawaii Republicans, meanwhile, may see an opening, though their ranks are even thinner.

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