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Hawai`i's televisions viewers have been told this week that Congresswoman Mazie Hirono isn't "tough" enough to become a U.S. Senator. No facts are offered to back up this claim by her opponent in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary. Indeed, Hirono's entire life shows the opposite is true.
Her opponent wants her to stop talking about her family, but they have a compelling story. Hirono came to the U.S. from Japan, as her mother fled an abusive marriage, without knowing any English. Through hard work and the tutelage of public-school teachers in Honolulu, Hirono became an honors student, graduating from Kaimuki High School before earning degrees at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa and Georgetown's law school. Most people would say that personal history shows impressive strength of character.
Her political career provides many vivid examples of her toughness too. As Lieutenant Governor from 1994 to 2002, she publicly disagreed with her running mate and boss, Gov. Ben Cayetano, on multiple high-profile matters. While Cayetano fought the teachers' union, Hirono walked the picket line with striking educators. Whereas Cayetano joined his Republican opponents in opposition to same-sex marriage, Hirono had the guts to oppose an anti-equality constitutional amendment, even as she and Cayetano were (successfully) running for re-election.
While in Congress, Hirono's most high-profile friends and allies have included Barney Frank, Barack Obama, and Nancy Pelosi. Yet she's had the courage to publicly oppose each of them on matters of principle and to help her constituents.
As a freshman Member of Congress in 2007, she went to the House floor to fight for the protection of transgendered employees in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - a position that put her in direct opposition to Frank and the committee he chaired.
Hirono endorsed Obama in the 2008 presidential primary and has been a staunch Administration ally on most issues. Yet, she has argued with the White House and the Pentagon on Afghanistan. She has advocated and voted for redeployment of troops at a faster pace than the Administration favors.
Her fight against Pelosi and the National Education Association (a usual Hirono ally) is one of the more recent examples of Hirono's fortitude. She joined with Republican Congressman Don Young to spearhead a successful bipartisan effort to amend the budget and direct education funding to Native Hawaiian and Native Alaskan programs.
Incidentally, Hirono's primary run is being supported by Frank, Pelosi, Hawai`i's NEA affiliate, and Young - perhaps showing that being tough and being respectful don't have to be mutually exclusive.
So, is Hirono tough enough to be the second woman of color and first immigrant elected to the U.S. Senate? If you think so, you can join #TeamMazie.