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The Supreme Court of Hawai`i ignited the debate over same-sex marriage in 1993. There was an immediate backlash within the state's political circles. The prevailing view was that, to remain viable for higher office in the future, politicians needed to support a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Mazie Hirono, first as a state legislator and then as Lt. Governor, bucked that advice. To great controversy, she was the only statewide elected official or candidate to oppose the amendment when it was placed on the ballot in '98.

Thirteen years later, the controversy has largely subsided. A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, Hawai`i has one of the nation's strongest civil-union laws, and after becoming a founding member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus Mazie has been re-elected to Congress by huge margins.

The pundits and advisers who told Mazie she'd be ending her political career by standing up for LGBT equality were simply wrong. She currently has the highest favorability ratings of any politician in the state seeking office in 2012. She took a courageous, principled stand - and, over the long run, wasn't harmed by it. Isn't that encouraging - and hopefully a lesson for other candidates and elected officials.

Please follow me below for a few other examples of Mazie's foresight and leadership. On issue after issue, she's been out in front of conventional wisdom. Instead of bowing to apparent popular opinion, she has helped to shape it. It takes smarts to accurately analyze an issue beyond the current election season or the 24-hour news cycle. And it takes guts to lead on an issue. Intelligence and courage - what ideal characteristics for a U.S. Senator.  

Campaign-finance reform

On Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono's very first day in office, she co-sponsored a resolution expressing the view that the Supreme Court was wrong to conclude, in Buckley v. Valeo, that campaign contributions are a form of free speech. A Georgetown-trained lawyer, Mazie could foresee the logical conclusion of the Court's holding in that case and subsequent cases following the same reason - i.e., eventually campaign-finance laws would be broadly struck down on First Amendment grounds. She was proven right, to her dismay, in the infamous Citizens United case.

Despite the disappointment - and legal hurdles - created by Citizens United, Mazie has pressed ahead to take a leadership role in advocating for effective campaign-finance reform. Last month, she became an original co-sponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act of 2011. As explained by Common Cause, this legislation would "make individual citizens, writing checks of up to $100, the central focus of our elections":

Here’s how: Participating candidates would renounce corporate, union and political action committee donations, agreeing to accept only citizen donations of $100 or less. After raising $50,000 in such small gifts, each participating candidate would receive a grant from a public Fair Elections Fund. The amount of the grant would be adjusted for each election cycle to reflect the average costs of successful House and Senate races, so it would be enough to finance a competitive campaign.

Candidates who wish to continue fundraising would be eligible to receive additional public funds, collecting $5 for every $1 raised in gifts from $100 or less. The total amount available would be capped at three times the total of the initial grant.

Earlier, Mazie co-sponsored the proposal to initiate a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Religious tolerance

Mazie was a little bemused at the national attention she received for becoming (along with Congressman Hank Johnson) one of the first Buddhists elected to Congress:

What happened to separation of church and state and religious tolerance? I believe in those things.

Mazie has worked closely with Hawai`i's large and diverse Christian community and members of all faiths, while continuing to espouse the constitutional value of church-state separation. She traveled to Belgium as part of the U.S. delegation in celebration of Father Damien's canonization, and she's spoken to the Interfaith Alliance.

The country is becoming more diverse, and religious tolerance is an important part of ensuring that our diversity is a strength, not a weakness. Yet, Mazie is one of the precious few Members of Congress who've consistently expressed faith in the Establishment Clause.

Nurturing the next generation of leaders

Mazie talks about how she walks in the footsteps of the late Hawai`i Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink and other trailblazers. But she also talks about how we have a long way to go to support girls and women in politics. Though Hawai`i has an all-female delegation to the House of Representatives and recently had a female governor, overall Hawai`i has a poor record at electing women to office. We have no female mayors and just a small minority of state and municipal legislators are women. So, Mazie co-founded the Patsy T. Mink PAC, which supports pro-choice female candidates in the state. It's essentially an EMILY's List for local races. Among the PAC's success stories so far are state Senators Jill Tokuda and Maile Shimabukuro (both of whom have been rumored as candidates for Mazie's current seat in Congress).

To learn more about Patsy Mink's legacy, I recommend the highly acclaimed "Ahead of the Majority." Patsy had a legendary career in the U.S. House of Representative until her death in 2002 and unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate the last time Hawai`i had an open seat (1976).

To help ensure that being ahead of the majority is rewarded by a majority of votes in this historic race, please consider signing up for a small monthly contribution to Mazie's campaign via my ActBlue page. Mahalo.

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