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Schatz sworn in as new Hawaii senator

December 27, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli

WASHINGTON – Brian Schatz knew this much about Washington before departing Hawaii on Wednesday to start his new role as a U.S. senator – it was cold.

And so, barely hours after Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced that he was appointing the state's lieutenant governor to replace the late Daniel K. Inouye, Schatz went shopping for a new overcoat.

Yes, they do sell winter clothes in the Aloha State.

It's been a whirlwind 24 hours for Schatz, who learned of his appointment at 1 p.m. local time in Hawaii on Wednesday, and by 2:36 p.m. EST on Thursday was sworn in as the newest member of the Senate. 

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He came to Washington aboard Air Force One, hitching a ride with President Obama as he cut short his vacation to his native state to focus on the looming fiscal cliff.

"It was a lovely flight," Schatz said in an interview on the tarmac at a windy, cold Andrews Air Force Base Thursday morning after an overnight flight. "I slept almost the whole way."

Schatz spoke briefly with Obama during the flight. He declared himself "anxious to get to work" and said he would be "supporting the administration's priorities." Schatz was an early advocate of Obama's first presidential campaign.

The appointment of Schatz was something of a surprise, at least beyond Hawaii. Inouye, in a letter to Abercrombie shortly before he died on Dec. 17, expressed his "last wish" that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be named to succeed him.

Schatz sidestepped a question about the appointment process, saying only that "no one can fill Sen. Inouye's shoes."

"His humility, his service to his state and his country, his kind demeanor – we'll all try to emulate that," he said.

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After Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office, Daniel Akaka, now Hawaii's senior senator, said that the state's delegation "must continue" to remain united and focused on the state's interest, not personal "ambition."

"While there are other talented leaders in Hawaii who stepped forward and who would also have been excellent appointees, I know that my colleagues will join me in supporting Sen. Brian Schatz for the good of Hawaii," Akaka said.

In the interview, Schatz said he hoped "cooler heads will prevail" in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

"It's at this stage difficult to understand why we would inflict this on ourselves," he said of the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect unless lawmakers reach an alternate deal. "Now it's time – and we're really running out of time – to negotiate a settlement which I believe no one will be thrilled with. But the only thing  worse than a solution to the fiscal cliff would be actually going over it."

Schatz, 40, will briefly be the youngest member of the Senate. Sen.-elect Chris Murphy of Connecticut, 39, will have that distinction when he is sworn in on Jan. 3.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who will turn 89 next month, is the chamber's oldest member, just ahead of Akaka, who turned 88 in September. Inouye was well into his second Senate term when Schatz was born.

Schatz resigned as lieutenant governor shortly before taking the Senate oath. The Pomona College graduate had served for eight years in the Hawaii state House of Representatives, and was later state Democratic Party chairman, before being elected lieutenant governor in 2010.

He faces a special election in 2014 to complete Inouye's expired term, and has said he would also run for a full six-year term in 2016.

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michael.memoli@latimes.com

Twitter: @mikememoli

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