Mazie Keiko Hirono ( ; Japanese name: 広野 慶子 , Hirono Keiko; born November 3, 1947) is a Japanese-born American politician serving since 2013 as the junior United States Senator from Hawaii. She is a member of the Democratic Party. Prior to her career in the Senate, Hirono served as a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1981 to 1995 and as Hawaii's ninth lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002 under Ben Cayetano. The Democratic nominee for Governor of Hawaii in 2002, Hirono was defeated by Republican Linda Lingle. From 2007 to 2013, she served as a member of the United States House of Representatives for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district.
|United States Senator|
| Assumed office |
January 3, 2013
|Preceded by||Daniel Akaka|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives |
from Hawaii's 2nd district
| In office |
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2013
|Preceded by||Ed Case|
|Succeeded by||Tulsi Gabbard|
|9th Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii|
| In office |
December 2, 1994 – December 2, 2002
|Preceded by||Ben Cayetano|
|Succeeded by||Duke Aiona|
|Member of the|
Hawaii House of Representatives
| In office |
January 3, 1981 – December 2, 1994
|Preceded by||Clifford Uwaine|
|Succeeded by||Terry Yoshinaga|
|Constituency||12th district (1981–83)|
20th district (1983–85)
32nd district (1985–93)
22nd district (1993–94)
Mazie Keiko Hirono
( 1947-11-03 ) November 3, 1947 (age 71)
Koori, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
Leighton Kim Oshima (m. 1987)
|Education||University of Hawaii at Manoa (BA)|
Georgetown University (JD)
Hirono is the first elected female senator from Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, the first U.S. senator born in Japan, and the nation's first Buddhist senator. She considers herself a non-practicing Buddhist and is often cited with Hank Johnson as the first Buddhist to serve in the United States Congress. She is the third woman to be elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii (after Patsy Mink and Pat Saiki). In 2012, Hirono was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Daniel Akaka. Hirono won the election, defeating Linda Lingle in a rematch landslide victory by 63% to 37%. Hirono was sworn in on January 3, 2013, by Vice President Joe Biden. Hirono was the only person of Asian ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate from 2013 until 2017 when senators Tammy Duckworth and Kamala Harris were sworn in, representing the states of Illinois and California, respectively. Although Brian Schatz joined the Senate a week before she did following the death of Daniel Inouye, making him Hawaii's senior senator, her six years in the House of Representatives makes her the dean, or longest-serving member overall, of Hawaii's congressional delegation.
Mazie Hirono was born on November 3, 1947, in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. Although born in Japan, she was born to a mother who was an American citizen. At the age of 16, her maternal grandfather, Satō Hiroshi, immigrated to Hawaii to work on sugar plantations in Hawaii; Hirono's grandmother, Tari Shinoki, was a picture bride. After finding plantation work difficult, they opened a bathhouse on River Street in Honolulu in 1928 and saved their money. The couple had a daughter, Sato Laura Chie, in 1924 and a son, Akira. In 1939, Tari returned to Japan with their son and daughter; Hiroshi remained behind to run the bathhouse for two more years before rejoining his family in 1941. Though Laura felt out of place in Japan, in 1946, aged 22, she married a veterinarian, Hirono Matabe, and moved with her husband to southern Fukushima. The couple had three children, Roy, Mazie and Wayne; Mazie was the middle child and only surviving daughter.
Hirono's father was a compulsive gambler and alcoholic who would pawn his wife's possessions for gambling money. Treated "like a slave," by her in-laws, Hirono said, in 1951 Laura left her abusive marriage. The deciding moment for her had come after her brother Akira, who had returned to Hawaii after the war, had sent some money for a school uniform for Laura's youngest son Wayne, but her husband had taken it to buy an overcoat. As Laura later recounted, "My brother sent money to buy a school uniform for my son. My husband took the money, went to town and never came back home. It was getting closer to the start of school, so I went to look for him. I found out he had ordered an overcoat for himself with the money. He didn't need an overcoat in the spring. That's when I made up my mind to leave." After telling her in-laws she would be taking her elder son and Hirono to school in her hometown, Laura left the house, never to return. Selling her clothes for the rail fare, she returned to her parents' house. Laura said, "My husband never came around once; my parents were supportive and took all of us in. My mother gave us money. I guess it all boils down to love."
Hirono's grandparents decided to return to Hawaii, but as Japanese citizens without professional backgrounds, they could only immigrate under a quota system; as Laura had citizenship, she decided to return first. As Wayne was only three, Laura left him with her parents and with Mazie and Roy returned to Hawaii in March 1955, sending for Wayne and her parents in 1957.
"She determined that she had to get away, and it wasn't enough to even be living in the same country — she wanted to put thousands of miles between them," Hirono said. "That took a lot of courage. I always tell my mom there is nothing I can do, (hard as it is to be in politics, to be in public life, that I think is) harder than what she did."
After first living with her uncle Akira, Mazie, Roy and her mother moved into a rooming house on Kewalo Street in Honolulu. "The first place had one room, one table, three chairs and one bed," Laura said. "Mazie and Roy slept on the bed. I slept on the floor with a futon. The landlady was so nice. The rent was $35, but she charged us less because I didn't have a job." Laura found work for Hawaii Hochi as a typesetter and also worked three nights a week for a catering company. Hirono herself worked in the school cafeteria and had a paper route.
Though money was tight and the family was forced to move often, Laura kept them together. Mazie Hirono recalled that she and her brother used to get a dime once or twice a week from their mother. "We both had baseball piggy banks. My older brother spent all his dimes but I saved mine. But one day I came home and the dimes were gone. My mother had to use it to buy food."
Hirono never saw her father again, and he has since died. Laura became a newspaper proofreader in 1961 and retired from the Hawaii Newspaper Agency in 1986; Roy became a Hawaiian Electric supervisor. Wayne drowned in 1978, aged 26. Her grandfather, Hiroshi, died in 1989, and her grandmother Tari died in 2000 at age 99.
Raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hirono became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959, the year that Hawaii became a state. Hirono attended Kaʻahumanu Elementary and Koko Head Elementary Schools. She later graduated from Kaimuki High School, which at the time of her attendance had a predominantly Japanese American student body. Upon graduating from high school, Hirono enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa where, in 1970, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and received a B.A. degree in psychology. She left Hawaii to attend Georgetown University Law Center, where she obtained her J.D. degree in 1978. Hirono returned to Honolulu where she practiced law.
In 1980, she was elected to Hawaii's 12th House District in a multi-member district with Democratic State Representative David Hagino. Hawaii eliminated MMDs and after redistricting, she ran for Hawaii's 20th House District and won. After redistricting again in 1984, she ran for the newly redrawn Hawaii's 32nd House District and won. In 1992, after redistricting, she ran in the newly redrawn Hawaii's 22nd House District. She was challenged in the Democratic primary and won the three candidate field with 91% of the vote. She won the general election and served only one term in the 22nd district before retiring in 1994 to run for statewide office.
From 1980 to 1994, Hirono served in the Hawaii House of Representatives, passing more than 120 laws. She was honored by a coalition of leaseholders as Legislator of the Year in 1984.
From 1987 to 1992, she was the Chairman of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee.
She ran for Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii and won the Democratic primary defeating fellow State Representative Jackie Young 65%–26%. In the general election, she defeated three other candidates: Danny Kaniela Kaleikini (Best Party), State Representative Fred Hemmings (Republican Party), and Jack Morse (Green Party) 37%–31%–29%–4%.
She ran for re-election in 1998. She was challenged in the primary by Nancy L. Cook and defeated her 89%–11%. In the general election, Hirono defeated Republican State Senator Stan Koki 50%–49%, a difference of 5,254 votes.
In 1994, she joined the ticket of incumbent Lieutenant Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano and was consequently elected to a historic administration led by the first Filipino American governor and first Japanese immigrant lieutenant governor. During her tenure as lieutenant governor, Hirono was also president of the National Commission on Teaching, America's Future, as well as the Hawaii Policy Group. She also spearheaded the first-in-the-nation comprehensive Pre-Plus program, a precursor to universal pre-school education in the United States.
Hirono originally wanted to run for Mayor of Honolulu in a potential 2002 special election created by the vacancy of incumbent Mayor Jeremy Harris, who was planning to resign in order to run for Governor of Hawaii. However, due to internal controversies, Harris dropped out of the gubernatorial election and remained mayor for another two years. Hirono switched races.
Hirono maneuvered to gain the support of potential Harris voters in her challenge against former State House Majority Leader Ed Case. Through the entire primary campaign season, Hirono and Case polled almost equally. Hirono defeated Case in the September 21 Democratic primary, 41%–40%, a difference of 2,613 votes.
Congresswoman Hirono during the 110th congress
On September 23, Hirono ran for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district , being vacated by incumbent U.S. Congressman Ed Case. The Democratic primary was very competitive. There were ten candidates, seven of whom served in the Hawaii Legislature. Hirono's advantage was the fact that she was the only candidate who had held statewide office and as a result had the most name recognition. She also raised more money than any other candidate in the race, mostly because of the endorsement of EMILY's List. Hirono also loaned her campaign $100,000. She won with a plurality of just 22% of the vote. State Senator Colleen Hanabusa ranked second with 21%, and was only 845 votes short of Hirono.
Hirono won re-election to a third term with 72% of the vote.
In 2008, Hirono was named the national preschool advocacy organization Pre-K Now's "Pre-K Champion" for her efforts on behalf of pre-kindergarten legislation.
Hirono co-sponsored and signed the Prevention First Act of 2007. This act was aimed towards increasing public access to contraception, as well as increasing government funding to support the use of contraception. The act places an emphasis on informing and protecting women from unintended pregnancy. On May 4, 2011, Hirono voted against the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would have prohibited federal health care program from covering abortion costs, with exceptions being given to life-threatening cases.
In July 2011, Hirono continued to show her support for contraceptives by signing the Access to Birth Control Act, which mandates that pharmacies provide birth control to customers without undue delay. The ABP Act also ensures that customers seeking birth control can obtain without being submitted to unwanted harassment or breaches in patient confidentiality. Emily's List, a Democratic pro-choice action committee, pledged support to Hirono for her history of supporting contraceptive and abortion policies during her term. The endorsement of Emily's List helped Hirono in her 2012 senatorial race, contributing $129,714 to her campaign.
On May 19, 2011, Mazie Hirono announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat left open by Senator Daniel Akaka, who was retiring at the end of his term in 2012. She won the Democratic primary election on August 11, 2012. Hirono was endorsed as one of Democracy for America's Dean Dozen. She faced former Governor of Hawaii, Republican Linda Lingle, in the general election on November 6, 2012, and won. She is the first female senator from Hawaii, as well as the first Asian-born immigrant to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She was a part of the first completely non-Christian Congressional delegation from the state, which continued until the election of Mark Takai (an Episcopalian) in 2014 as Representative of Hawaii's 1st Congressional District.
In the 2012 campaign, Hirono was able to raise $5.2 million, with approximately 52% of that amount coming from large corporations, whereas Lingle raised $5.5 million, with 74% of the funding coming from large corporations. Hirono ended up spending $5 million, to come up with a 63% win over her opponent, while Lingle spent $4.8 million.
On November 6, 2018, Senator Hirono won re-election with 71.2% of the vote, easily defeating Republican Ron Curtis.
On December 12, 2012, the Senate Democratic Steering Committee announced that Hirono would serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving her influence on matters ranging from approving nominations of federal judges to setting criminal-justice policy.
During the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings in September 2018, Hirono became an outspoken defender of Christine Blasey Ford after Ford publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, telling men to "shut up and step up. Do the right thing".
In 2016, she participated in the Chris Murphy gun control filibuster. Hirono expressed disappointment when the Democrat-proposed Feinstein Amendment (banning the sale of firearms to individuals on the terrorist watchlist) and the Republican-backed background check expansion and alert system (regarding guns being sold to terrorist watchlist suspects) both failed to pass the Senate.
On July 28, 2017, two months after undergoing surgery for stage-four kidney cancer, Senator Hirono spoke on the Senate floor and voted against the so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act. Reporter Kyle Griffin of MSNBC filmed Senator Hirono's speech and posted it on Twitter.
In January 2019, during the 2018–19 United States federal government shutdown, Hirono was one of thirty-four senators to sign a letter to Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb recognizing the efforts of the FDA to address the effect of the government shutdown on the public health and employees while remaining alarmed "that the continued shutdown will result in increasingly harmful effects on the agency’s employees and the safety and security of the nation’s food and medical products." Gottlieb said additional staff might be called in as needed.
In April 2019, Hirono was one of forty-one senators to sign a bipartisan letter to the housing subcommittee praising the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 4 Capacity Building program as authorizing "HUD to partner with national nonprofit community development organizations to provide education, training, and financial support to local community development corporations (CDCs) across the country" and expressing disappointment that President Trump's budget "has slated this program for elimination after decades of successful economic and community development." The senators wrote of their hope that the subcommittee would support continued funding for Section 4 in Fiscal Year 2020.
In April 2019, Hirono was one of seven senators to sponsor the Digital Equity Act of 2019, legislation establishing a $120 million grant program that would fund both the creation and implementation of "comprehensive digital equity plans" in each U.S. state along with providing a $120 million grant program to give support toward projects developed by individuals and groups. The bill also gave the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) the role of evaluating and providing guidance toward digital equity projects.
Results certified by the Office of Elections, State of Hawaii:
Hirono announced in May 2017 that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, which had spread to her seventh rib. The cancer was discovered following a chest x-ray in April before some minor eye surgery. Her right kidney was removed surgically on May 17, 2017, with a Cyberknife procedure to treat the rib lesion. Hirono returned to the Senate on May 22, 2017, and was easily re-elected to a second term in November 2018.