HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has apologized for remarks in which he expressed doubt about whether it was Sen. Daniel Inouye’s “dying wish” that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be named as his replacement.
On the day the veteran senator died in December 2012 at the age of 88, Abercrombie received a letter, marked “personal,” stating Inouye’s preference for Hanabusa, but he appointed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to fill the vacancy until the next election. Hanabusa is giving up her House seat to challenge Schatz in the Democratic primary.
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, the Democratic governor questioned whether Inouye wrote the letter, while acknowledging that Inouye had made his position clear in past conversations.
“I received that letter, ostensibly coming from Sen. Inouye himself, a half an hour before he died in Washington, D.C. Literally,” Abercrombie said in the interview. “Whether or not this could be construed as Sen. Inouye’s dying wish — let me put it this way — is problematic …
“I think it was kind of created. I don’t dispute for a second it represented his thinking, but it’s far from being a dying wish, sent from Washington and signed and sealed … by Sen. Inouye in Washington.”
Peter Boylan, communications director for Hanabusa’s campaign, told the Associated Press, “Obviously he didn’t sit at the computer and type it up, but he dictated the contents of the letter in the week leading up.”
Irene Hirano Inouye, the senator’s widow, told The Honolulu Star Advertiser, “The governor’s comments about Dan’s last wishes are hurtful. To question the letter and the authenticity of Dan’s last wishes is disrespectful to Dan, me, and to Dan’s family, friends and his former staff.
”It’s been nearly 16 months since Dan passed, and with the outpouring of support from so many people, we’ve been working very hard to continue Dan’s legacy through many important projects. So I find that the fact that this has been raised again — certainly it’s saddening to me to have to go through this.”
In a statement issued April 15, Abercrombie said, “I apologize to the late Sen. Inouye, his wife Irene, his family, friends, and former staff for the comments I made concerning the letter. I regret that my comments were interpreted as hurtful and disrespectful to them. That was certainly not my intent.
“Sen. Inouye was, without a doubt, one of the finest leaders in Hawaii’s history, and a mentor to me. Selection of Sen. Inouye’s successor was one of the most difficult decisions of my political career.
“I had three worthy nominees from the Democratic Party to select from. In my discussions with Sen. Inouye, it was clear that he preferred Colleen Hanabusa. In the end, however, he told me, as governor, you have to make the decision you think is best for the people of Hawaii.”
Schatz distanced himself from the dispute, saying in a statement to The Washington Post, “I do not question the authenticity of Sen. Inouye’s letter.”