Mazie Hirono, who served as lieutenant governor during Gov. Ben Cayetano’s administration and who is now a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, visited Kaua‘i Friday to find out what she could do to help Kaua‘i if elected.
Following a trip through Lihu‘e, where she met several hundred residents, business people and longtime supporters, she found out education, gas prices, aid to the poor, Medicare and Social Security benefits were foremost on their minds.
If elected, she says she wants them to have peace of mind knowing that she will be working tirelessly for them to find solutions that will work.
She said her ties with Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Sen. Daniel Akaka and House Rep. Neil Abercrombie, can help bring back to Hawai‘i the federal funding and resources to help forge solutions to key concerns.
Hirono, accompanied by Lihu‘e businesswoman Bernie Sakoda and election campaign strategist Julie Stauch, was in Lihu‘e Friday to launch her “Neighbor-to-Neighbor” tour of the 2nd Congressional District.
She wasn’t on Kauai to offer quick solutions, and came mostly to listen.
Hirono is one of five who are hoping to fill the congressional seat being vacated by House Rep. Ed Case, who has announced plans to run for a Senate seat held by Akaka for nearly two decades.
In addition to Hirono, State Sen. Collen Hanabusa (D-21st District), Kaua‘i Sen. Gary Hooser D-7th District), state Sen. Ron Menor (D-17th District) and State Rep. Brian Schatz (D-25th District) plan to run.
Because the state senators are not up for reelection this year, they can return to their Senate seats to serve out the remainder of their two-year terms if they fail to win the U.S. House seat.
If Hirono prevails in the September primary and wins in the November general election, she said she would make sure Kaua‘i County receives sufficient funds to recover from the March 14 flooding in Kilauea that took seven lives.
“I will talk with people who will give me the update on how things are going … federal support for recovery, and there might be insurance issues,” she said. “This is an immediate concern to Kaua‘i.”
Long-standing traffic congestion is a problem that is tied to an equally serious one for the island, development without sufficient infrastructure, hence the traffic problems, she said.
“Kaua‘i is facing development issues, and where development goes, you will have transportation concerns,” she said. “So there are interconnected factors.”
Political leaders can mitigate the problems by recognizing the carrying capacities of a region where development is occurring, she said.
The use of crystal methamphetamine can be found throughout the 2nd Congressional District, is sometimes “intergenerational” and is a problem that didn’t develop in a vacuum, she said.
“Of course I would work in concert with the state and counties to bring federal resources to fight the ice problem here, but we all need to be clear on what the causes are,” she said.
The root causes of drug use have to be attacked, “lack of jobs, lack of training, lack of education may be those factors,” she said.
“We need to address the root causes as well as treat the people who are addicted, although I don’t think ice limits itself to the poor,” Hirono said.
If elected, she would bring federal resources to bear to address other conditions that contribute to drug use, she said.
As lieutenant governor, she supported the use of the federally funded “Weed and Seed” program to curb rampant drug use in parts of Hawai‘i, she said. On finding solutions for drug use, “there is no single answer, but we have to stay the course,” she said.
The lack of affordable housing is another issue that challenges Kaua‘i now, she said. The lack of affordable homes will result in more displacement of longtime residents, Kaua‘i County officials have stressed.
As a partial solution for now, she would like to enhance the federal government’s Section 8 rental subsidy program to help people find decent rental housing.
Helping veterans also is priority for her, Hirono said. Hawai‘i probably has the largest number of people in the military per capita of any state, “so I have a deep sense of commitment to supporting our military,” she said.
Hirono said collaboration and networking are at the core of her leadership style, and those strategies have worked well for her politically.
“Collaboration is about bringing different people and groups together,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean that I won’t address a problem if I don’t have consensus.”
Even without consensus, a strong leader forges ahead for the greater good, she said. “You have to make a decision and do the right thing,” Hirono said.
She said she has been a strong leader. When she served in the Legislature between 1980 to 1994, she introduced and had passed 120 pieces of legislation. She also headed two powerful committees, the Housing Committee and the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee.
She served as lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002, and she ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, losing to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.
Hirono, a lawyer, said she has mostly stayed away from Hawai‘i’s political arena since 2002, but did found the Patsy T. Mink Political Action Committee to “not only honor her for being the trailblazer she was, but to carry on her legacy, fighting for justice.”
As a member of Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation, Mink, an attorney and civil rights advocate, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven years from 1990 to 1997.
She died Sept. 28, 2002, and was posthumously elected to the 109th Congress in 2002. Case was elected that year in a special election to fill the seat left by Mink, who died of pneumonia.
Hirono, who hopes to take that seat, said her political acumen is just as sharp today as it was when she held public office.
She said she is stepping back into the spotlight of politics this time around because “I believe in public service.”
Sakoda said Hirono’s ability to raise $3 million for her campaign in a scant five weeks shows her political strength and the strong support she has.
“I was very gratified with people who said they wanted to help me win (in this election year),” Hirono said.
In a sense, the 2nd Congressional District is a bastion of support for her, Hirono said.
She said her strongest base of support in the 2002 gubernatorial race came from that district, representing all the neighbor islands and the rural areas of O‘ahu. Hirono also said she also carried Kaua‘i voters in that race.
“The neighbor islands knew me and they put their faith and trust in me, and in this campaign, I am going to ask the people from the 2nd Congressional District to continue to put their trust and faith in me by electing me to Congress,” Hirono said.
Her Web site, www.mazieforcongress.com, will be up in nine days.
• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com