Following Inouye's death, his staff made public a letter he had sent to Abercrombie from his deathbed, asking that Hanabusa be named to his seat. Schatz's appointment therefore comes as something of a surprise, given Inouye's unparalleled stature in Hawaii politics, but if Abercrombie wanted to demonstrate his independence, he certainly just did that.
Schatz was first elected lieutenant governor in 2010 on the same ticket as Abercrombie. Prior to that, he was chair of the state party, a spokesman for the 2008 Obama campaign in Hawaii, and also a state representative from 1998 to 2006. Schatz is now headed to Washington, DC immediately and says that he expects to be sworn in tomorrow, in time to be part of any votes over the fiscal cliff. He'll serve until 2014, when a special election will be held for the final two years of Inouye's term. (Another election, for the full six-year term, will take place in 2016.)
Before any of that can happen, Schatz—who says he will run—could very well face a primary challenge, perhaps from Hanabusa herself. Abercrombie may also face a backlash from Inouye loyalists, and even he could get primaried—again, possibly by Hanabusa. In the meantime, Abercrombie will also need a new lieutenant governor to replace Schatz. (Under the Hawaii constitution, the president of the State Senate—in this case, Shan Tsutsui—ordinarily would accede to the post, though he says he may decline, in which case state House Speaker Calvin Say would be next in line.) As always, we'll be following all of the fallout closely.