Rep. Mazie Hirono (D)
Hawaii 2nd District
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd District encompasses all of the islands in the Hawaii archipelago, including most of Oahu’s acreage beyond Honolulu, which belongs to the state’s other congressional district. It takes in Wheeler Army Airfield and the farmlands north of Pearl Harbor, between two jagged chains of mountains that lift the island out of the sea. Over the mountains to the west on Oahu is the Leeward Coast—calm, sultry, and lightly populated. Over the mountains to the northeast is the Windward Coast, with many prosperous, Republican-leaning subdivisions in and around Kaneohe and Kailua. The 137 islands have distinct personalities. Hawaii, the Big Island, is the size of Connecticut and boasts huge cattle ranches; the active volcano Kilauea, which started erupting in 1983 and has not stopped since; and Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the world if the count begins at its base far under the ocean. Tourists are told that it is bad luck to take pieces of lava home. On the north shore, with heavy rainfall and tropical foliage, is the old port of Hilo and Hawaii’s macadamia nut industry; this is a blue-collar Democratic area in a natural wonderland. On the Kona Coast, where there is little rainfall and the landscape is dominated by lava flows, there are retirement condominiums and a higher-income, more Republican population. Even before the recession of 2008, tourism dropped sharply on the island, and tourist officials are encouraging new visitors from China. Energy prices are among the highest in the nation, and “vog” emissions from volcanoes are a growing health concern. The island of Maui, favored more by North American than Asian tourists, has dozens of luxury condominiums and upscale resorts. Workers are employed chiefly in tourism, the military, social services, and agriculture. Kauai, much of which was devastated by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, is the least developed and most agricultural of the main islands. Parts of it have the nation’s highest rainfall, while others seldom get wet. Its large farm workforce—a reminder of what most of Hawaii was like a century ago—makes it the most Democratic of the islands. Overall, the district is Democratic. In 2008, voters on the Big Island effectively decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession by requiring that police make such arrests their lowest priority.
Rep. Mazie Hirono (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Nov. 3, 1947, Fukushima, Japan .
Education: U. of HI, B.A. 1970, Georgetown U., J.D. 1978.
Family: Married (Leighton Kim Oshima); 1 child.
Elected office: HI House of Reps., 1980-94, HI lt. gov. 1994-2002.
Professional Career: Dep. atty. gen., 1978-80; Practicing atty., 1984-88.
The congresswoman from the 2nd District is Mazie Hirono, a Democrat elected in 2006. Hirono was born in Fukushima, Japan, and immigrated to Hawaii in 1955 just before her eighth birthday with her mother, who fled an abusive husband with alcohol and gambling problems. As a child, she shared a single bed in a boardinghouse room with her mother and older brother, and at age 10 was sent to work to help support the family. These childhood struggles with poverty and the adjustment to a new country shaped her liberal politics. “I know what it feels like to be discriminated against, to feel powerless, to have landlords who threaten to kick you out, and not having a place to go,” she told The Honolulu Advertiser. Hirono mastered English in the public schools and became a naturalized citizen in 1959, the same year Hawaii became a state. After graduating from the University of Hawaii, she ran for a seat in the state House and lost, then earned a law degree from Georgetown University and worked in the Hawaii attorney general’s office. She ran again for the state House in 1980 and won; she held the seat for 14 years. In 1994, she was elected to the first of two terms as lieutenant governor. In 2002, she defeated Democrat Ed Case, who was then a state representative, in the gubernatorial primary. After that, her poorly organized campaign struggled to gain momentum, and she was undermined by Democratic corruption scandals, budget woes, and an acrimonious teachers’ strike. She lost the general election 52%-47% to Linda Lingle, the first Republican to win the office since 1959.
|Mazie Hirono (D)||165,748||(76%)||($970,819)|
|Roger Evans (R)||44,425||(20%)|
|Mazie Hirono (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (61%)
Hirono’s defeat was a painful setback for her, but not a career-ender. She formed the Patsy Mink political action committee (named for the late Hawaii representative) to assist state-level Democratic women who support abortion rights. When then-U.S. Rep. Case decided to challenge Sen. Daniel Akaka in the Democratic Senate primary in 2006, Hirono was one of 10 Democrats and two Republicans who wanted to succeed him. The field included experienced campaigners such as state Sens. Colleen Hanabusa and Clayton Hee, and former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga. Hirono entered the race in April 2006 and was endorsed by the fundraising group EMILY’s List. She had more money and name recognition than the other candidates and was considered a front-runner.
She ran radio ads that highlighted her efforts on early-childhood education, land reform, and workers’ compensation. Hirono was forced to confront criticism about her record of accomplishment in state government and lingering doubts about the strength of her candidacy in the wake of her 2002 gubernatorial defeat. But Hirono narrowly won the splintered September primary with 22% of the vote and finished 844 votes ahead of Hanabusa, who garnered 21%. Matsunaga was third with 14%. After clinching the Democratic nomination, Hirono had a much easier time winning the general election in a district that had never elected a Republican. Republican state Sen. Bob Hogue, a former sportscaster, struggled to stay competitive with Hirono. Depicting Hirono as too liberal even for Hawaii, Republicans mocked her as a “big-government peacenik” for her support for liberal presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich’s proposal to create a federal Department of Peace. Hirono emphasized her experience and raised more money, winning the general election 61%-39%. Though she is no longer an active practitioner, Hirono entered office as one of only two Buddhists ever to serve in Congress. (The other is Hank Johnson of Georgia, also elected in 2006.)
In the House, Hirono has had a solidly liberal voting record and kept a relatively low profile. She worked with Hawaii Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie to pass the Native Hawaiian recognition bill in October 2007. On the Education and Labor Committee, she pushed to add $1 billion over five years for preschool education. She backed a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq, and said during a June 2008 visit to the country that military progress should expedite the return home of U.S. forces. The House passed her bill to create a memorial on Kalaupapa Peninsula in Hawaii for the 8,000 people forcibly exiled there with leprosy from 1866 to 1969. In October 2008, she reversed earlier opposition to the $700 billion bailout of the financial and insurance industries after getting a call from Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who was raised in Hawaii. Hirono was re-elected easily in 2008.