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[January 10, 2013]
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Under the Sun column
Jan 10, 2013 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Even when sitting, Mufi Hannemann's height is evident. His knees barely fit under the table he was sharing with his brother Nephi as the two men waited for their orders of vegetarian chili and other fare at Zippy's in Kaimuki.
This was late one night a few months back, after the former mayor had lost his primary bid for the U.S. House seat left open when Mazie Hirono chose to run for retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka's job.
A thinner Hannemann was less animated than in our previous encounters, perhaps sobered by unsuccessful campaigns of the last couple of years. He was vague about his prospects, saying he was scoping the lay of the land and had set himself in a holding pattern until the election dust cleared a bit. He also talked about unpredictable opportunities in Hawaii's political structure.
"Things happen, you know, things change," he said, a remnant of his public ebullience returning at the thought.
He was right. A couple of months later, things really did happen when the venerable Daniel Inouye died.
What has followed the senator's death can be described as a shift in power in the islands and at the fulcrum is Gov. Neil Abercrombie, whose decision to leave Congress to run for the state's highest position can be seen as the first spark that fired the change.
Despite Inouye's wish that U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa complete his term, Abercrombie selected his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz. He said he made the choice, in part, because it would not require a special election for Hanabusa's seat, lending a measure of stability to Hawaii's novice congressional delegation.
But in trade for that, Schatz's appointment has sent repercussions from Capitol Hill to the state Capitol and all the way to Wailuku.
The line of succession for lieutenant governor first paused at Senate President Shan Tsutsui's door. Had he declined, Calvin Say or whoever was House speaker was next up.
Tsutsui accepted, fortunately, because the House has been stuck in a struggle for leadership as Maui Rep. Joe Souki jockeys for support among members of his party and a few Republicans to replace Say.
Souki had counted on Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran's backing, but again, Abercrombie put his finger in the pie, appointing Keith-Agaran to fill Tsutsui's Senate vacancy and leaving Souki shy of votes.
House factions may have sorted out their differences in a caucus Wednesday, but membership will remain fluid until the governor appoints a Kahului-Wailuku-Puunene representative to its ranks. Maui County Democrats will offer Abercrombie three nominees from which to choose, and it is not inconceivable that a current office-holder will be on their list, which could trigger yet another vacancy.
Politicos are no doubt busily calculating and maneuvering, speculating about the big picture that will emerge when this frenzied round of musical chairs ends. What is clear is that there has been a changing of the guard, but whether that will be for better or worse for island residents, whether Hawaii will be released from the same-old, same-old grip of certain interest groups cannot be predicted.
For Abercrombie, the death of Inouye, who had backed Hannemann in the gubernatorial primary two years ago, opportunities abound. For Hannemann, not so much. At least for the time being.
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