U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono met with Mayor Bryan Baptiste and some department heads Thursday to discuss alternative energy projects and ways to improve the county’s bus system.
Accompanied by chief-of-staff Carl Takamura, the first-year representative also pledged to work with other members of Hawai‘i’s congressional team and government officials to bring federal funds back to the state.
“I want to make sure our lines of communication are opened, and plan to meet with state legislators from the 2nd Congressional District to talk about their priorities and how I can be of help,” Hirono said in an interview.
A former Democratic lieutenant governor who beat Republican state Sen. Bob Hogue to win the congressional seat in November, Hirono’s 2nd Congressional District represents rural O‘ahu and the Neighbor Islands.
She toured parts of Kaua‘i yesterday with Carl Takamura, her chief of staff, Mary Thronas, a Kaua‘i liaison for former Gov. George Ariyoshi and former chairwoman of the Kaua‘i County Council, and Kaua‘i businesswoman Bernie Sakoda.
Hirono said she met with Baptiste, Beth Tokioka, who heads the county’s Office of Economic Development, and Janine Rapozo, the executive on Transportation for Kaua‘i County, “so they can apprise me of their priorities, to make sure we are on the same page.”
She said she would work to ensure funds area available for improvements at two chronic traffic-problem areas — Kaumuali‘i Highway between Lihu‘e and Maluhia Road and Kuhio Highway between the Wailua Bridge and the Coconut Marketplace.
“I want to make sure that federal money that is in the pipeline for Kaua‘i gets to Kaua‘i,” Hirono said.
Based on information from Rapozo, Hirono said the time is right for the expansion of the county bus system.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura has advocated stronger ridership on the Kaua‘i Bus to help alleviate islandwide traffic congestion.
Because Hirono sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the largest House committee with 75 members, she says she will be in the best position to ensure funds will be available for improvements to highways and harbors.
As a member of that House committee, she sits on three sub-committees that work on water, aviation and highway issues.
“Through these subcommittees, I will be able to keep track of funds that have been appropriated and which need to be appropriated for highway and harbor developments and dam issues,” she said.
Hirono also said she will be able to do the same on education issues as member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
Hirono said she visited Wai‘akoloa Elementary School on the Big Island Wednesday to see first-hand the repair work from damage by the October earthquake.
“I stopped by because I wanted to make sure FEMA was being responsive,” she said of repair reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “The principal assured me that they were.”
Hirono said teachers there also expressed concerns about an “over-emphasis” on testing for the national No Child Left Behind program. She said the teachers are concerned they are “teaching to the test as opposed to just teaching to encourage student learning.”
During future trips to Kaua‘i, Hirono also said she plans to visit the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana.
Hirono said she wants to reach out to Hawai‘i government leaders to make beneficial changes not only in her district but throughout the state.
She said she met with Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., and Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares and her staff during a short trip to Hawai‘i in January to determine their respective funding needs.
Hirono, who arrived in Hawai‘i on Sunday for a seven-day visit, said the Democrat-controlled Congress wants to make swift changes for the nation’s benefit.
She supports a resolution opposing President Bush’s proposed escalation of the war in Iraq.
“This is the first time since the war began (in March 2003) that the House of Representatives has taken a position on the record disagreeing with the president,” Hirono said. “It is the first time Congress is stepping up to play the role it should be taking in questioning the administration on its policies, particularly on the war on Iraq.”
She said 17 Republicans “broke rank with the president” in supporting the resolution.
In keeping with the swift changes promise, Congress passed six bills in its first 100 hours, including increasing the minimum wage, which has not occurred in 10 years, decreasing interest rates for federally backed college loans, eliminating billion-dollar tax breaks for large oil companies and using resources for alternate energy development and allowing the Department of Human Services to negotiate for lower prescription drug costs, which will benefit senior citizens, Hirono said.
“There was bi-partisan support for the measures in that first 100 hours,” she said.
Hirono said Congress will put its nose to the grindstone to make changes. While the previous Congress had three-day work sessions, the current Congress has five-day sessions.
Hirono also recently testified before a House committee on a bill she co-sponsored that proposes to give World War II-era Filipino veterans full benefits.
She also will introduce a bill that would allow for the reunification of family members in the Philippines with Filipino war veterans in Hawai‘i.
Hirono also will fight attempts by the Bush administration to eliminate funding for Native Hawaiian education and health care projects from the proposed national budget.
“I don’t think his administration has been particularly supportive of minority programs,” she said. “His administration doesn’t like the Akaka Bill. Republicans have a different philosophy than Democrats.”