Japanese-American Immigrant, Woman of Many Firsts:
Mazie Keiko Hirono, a Democrat, achieved a number of firsts when she won the race for U.S. senator from Hawaii in November 2012. She became the state’s first female senator, the first senator born in Japan, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate and the country’s first Buddhist senator.
Early Life in Japan and Honolulu:
Hirono was born in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, in 1947, as the country was recovering from World War II.
She was middle of three children born to Sato Laura Chie and Hirono Matabe, a veterinarian. The marriage didn’t last, and in 1955, Laura and the children moved to Honolulu. Hirono attended public schools in Honolulu and graduated from Kaimuki High School, which had a largely Japanese-American population of students. Hirono went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
An outstanding student, she enrolled in Georgetown University Law Center and earned her law degree in 1978, after induction into a Phi Beta Kappa. She returned home to Honolulu to begin practicing law.
A Rapid Transition Into Political Life:
Hirono quickly moved into politics. In 1980, she ran for a seat in the Hawaii House and won. She was reelected to the House four more times, helping to pass more than 100 laws, before moving on to campaign for a statewide post.
In 1994, she ran for lieutenant governor and won her first two four-year terms. She became the nation’s first Japanese immigrant lieutenant governor and championed preschool education programs in the state.
In 2002, Hirono suffered her only political setback when she ran for governor and lost to Republican Linda Lingle, 52% to 47%. Four years later, Hirono returned to seek the 2nd congressional district seat and defeated her Republican rival with 61% of the vote. Hirono had a consistently liberal voting record in the House.
Rep. Hirono served on two U.S. House committees: the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. In November of 2010, Democratic colleagues unanimously elected Hirono to serve on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Hirono is an executive board member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
She easily won reelection twice before going after the Senate seat in 2012 against a familiar rival: Linda Lingle. Hirono evened the score with Lingle when she defeated her to win the Senate seat vacated by Daniel Akaka. Hirono got 63% of the vote.
“Clearly the Senate needs more diversity," Hirono said shortly after her election. "We don't even have parity regarding women. We have a ways to go."
"This has been an amazing night for me, an amazing journey," Hirono said in her victory speech. "The country is going to continue on the right path" with Barack Obama’s reelection, she said.
Beginning Career as a Senator:
Hirono campaigned on promises to protect Social Security and Medicare, and she also ran as pro-choice advocate for women. She also promised to work with Republicans to solve the country’s budget problems.
“Bipartisanship. Teamwork. Balance. That’s how leaders in Washington need to face our fiscal challenges, and that’s what the American people want to see,” said Congresswoman Hirono. “I agree with President Obama that we need business, labor, and leaders of both parties to come together and work out a compromise for the approaching fiscal cliff. Let’s protect national priorities like investing in our schools, promoting energy and food sustainability, and fixing our roads, harbors, and airports. At the same time, we can cut wasteful government spending and ask the wealthiest folks to chip in their fair share. Let’s show Hawaii’s families we’re serious about cooperating and putting our country on the path to a strong economic future.”
She and Her State Became Americans Together:
Mazie Hirono became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959, the year that Hawaii became a state.
She is married to Leighton Kim Oshima.