By Derrick DePledge
The state Senate voted on Thursday to approve a bill that would the give the governor the power to appoint newly elected U.S. senators so that they take office early and enhance their seniority.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie's quick appointment of U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in December 2012 after the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, for example, gave Schatz the edge in seniority over the newly elected senators who took office in January 2013, including U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.
Schatz is 84th in seniority among the Senate's 100 members; Hirono is 90th.
While seniority may matter less than it once did in the Senate, especially since old bulls like Inouye who enforced tradition are no longer in the chamber, seniority is still respected.
The bill approved on Thursday, which now moves to the House, would allow the governor to appoint a newly elected senator after the November general election, provided that the incumbent agrees to vacate the office. The governor would make the appointment on the next business day after receiving notice of the vacancy.
Sen. Les Ihara, Jr., voted for the bill with reservations, sharing concerns with the League of Women Voters of Hawaii that such a process may put pressure on incumbents to step down before their terms expire.
Incumbents may not be in such generous moods after losing elections. Politics aside, incumbents may also have the practical consideration of wanting to finish their work and complete their terms.
Imagine this scenario: Schatz loses to U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the Democratic primary in August. Hanabusa defeats her Republican opponent in November. Would Schatz voluntarily step down in November so Hanabusa could have a leg up on seniority?