HONOLULU - U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said Monday that she is qualified to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death last week of Daniel Inouye.
Hanabusa said she could "hit the ground running," and capably serve Hawaii.
Inouye died Dec. 17 from respiratory complications; he was 88 years old. In a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, dated Dec. 17, Inouye said his last wish was for Hanabusa to succeed him.
It will be up to Abercrombie to appoint Inouye's successor; his spokeswoman has declined to say how much weight Abercrombie might give to Inouye's request in making his decision.
Hawaii Democrats plan to meet Wednesday to come up with a list of three candidates to send Abercrombie. It's possible the new senator could be appointed and sworn in as early as this week, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking the governor to act swiftly as the Senate prepares to make "pivotal decisions" before the end of the year.
Under state law, candidates must come from the same party as the prior incumbent.
Hanabusa, 61, said she and Inouye talked "for years" about succession, but she said it was only recently that he impressed upon her the need to sit down and discuss her preparation for the role. Inouye supported Hanabusa in her 2010 run for Congress. She won a second term in November.
She said her time in the U.S. House and understanding of Congress and the issues before it has been part of her preparation toward a possible Senate seat.
She said she knew of Inouye's wishes but had no idea he'd expressed them to Abercrombie until she heard details of the letter in news accounts.
"The way I like to explain it to people is that, the real honor about what Senator said is, I don't think there's someone who has thought so forward, and he loves Hawaii so much that by his statements and by asking for me to succeed him, it is like entrusting me with something that he cared and loved so dearly, which is Hawaii," she said.
"The pressure on me would be there irrespective because he thought so highly (of me) and I feel so undeserving," she said. The pressure is actually more of a challenge, she said, to live up to Inouye's expectations. "I think his message to me was very clear: it was Hawaii," she said. "'Never forget who you represent, never forget the constituency and never forget that it is your obligation to do what is best for the state.'"
Though she had Inouye's support, she said she doesn't think any one candidate for the vacancy is in a better position than another. "There's no right that you have special," she said.
The party has vetted at least 12 prospective candidates. Those are people who meet the necessary qualifications to be considered. Among other things, they must be a member of good standing in the party, who has been a Democrat at least six months.
Other prominent Democrats who have applied for the post are Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who lost the Democratic primary for retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka's seat in August.
Hanabusa, a former state legislative leader, said the committee can measure her on past performance and legislative skills.
If Inouye's successor is sworn in before the start of the next Congress, Jan. 3, that person will become Hawaii's senior senator.
U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was elected to succeed Akaka. Hanabusa said the women are not in competition and that regardless of what Abercrombie ultimately decides Hirono will be the first woman elected to serve in the Senate from Hawaii.
"If I'm fortunate enough to get picked, then I'm sure we'll be able to be an effective team for Hawaii," she said.