In a video that was widely played and caused a fuss among Republican circles, Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Mazie Hirono garnered an endorsement from Republican Rep. Don Young.

In the commercial, Hirono — who currently represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District — and Young discuss how they teamed up in 2011 to pass an amendment that restored federal funding for Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native educational programs.

The two complete each others’ sentences in the video message.

“When vital Native Hawaiian and Alaskan education programs were at risk in Congress…,” says Hirono.

“Mazie and I got together and put our partisan differences aside and solved this problem for our people at home,” continues Young.

“Once Don and I joined together as Republican and Democrat, I had to battle my own party leadership to get our amendment passed,” Hirono concludes.

But did Hirono really have to battle leaders of the Democratic caucus to pass the amendment?

The ability to cross party lines as a measure of effective leadership has become a hot topic in Hawaii’s U.S. Senate race, with Republican candidate Linda Lingle being praised in commercials by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for her bipartisan record. Meantime, during the primary, former Democratic candidate Ed Case criticized Hirono for being too liberal to achieve anything in Congress.

We first reached out to Carolyn Tanaka, former deputy campaign manager for Hirono’s campaign.

She forwarded us a news blurb summarizing Young and Hirono’s collaboration on a bill known as the Young-Hirono amendment.

Young introduced the measure in question, which amended 2011’s GOP Continuing Resolution, also known as H.R.1. The Resolution was designed to cut billions of dollars from the federal budget.

Congressional records show that Hirono did indeed push strongly for the amendment, which restored the eligibility of Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education programs for federal funding.

The Native Hawaiian Education Act, enacted in 1988, was in 2002 reauthorized as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. H.R.1 included language that would’ve prohibited the U.S. Department of Education from funding the Alaskan Native Education Equity Act and the Native Hawaiian Education Program. The amendment ensured that such funding would not be slashed.

In remarks made to the House chair on Feb. 16, 2011, Hirono emphasized that the amendment didn’t call for increased funding for the programs. Instead, she said, the measure made the programs eligible for funds from the Department of Education School Improvement account.

The U.S. House passed the measure with 313 ayes to 117 noes.

The congressional record from the 112th Congress shows that one Democratic party leader strongly opposed the amendment. That person was Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who serves in the Democratic leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee. She is also the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Immediately following Hirono’s Feb. 16 remarks, DeLauro said,

Alaskan native education and native Hawaiian education programs are worthy programs, there is no doubt in my mind, and I believe the overall purpose of both is to ensure that the unique educational needs of Alaskan and Hawaiian natives are met. Clearly we all want the same for our constituents. But I think we have to be clear about what these programs are. They are earmarks with a pricetag that approaches $70 million. Now, this majority [the Republican Party] has been very proud of their policy to ban all earmarks….That is why, really, the decision by my Republican colleague from Alaska is therefore hard to understand, and the support that the majority is providing for this amendment is hard to understand. But I think it is clear evidence that the status quo remains when it comes to special favors and when it comes to special interests.

But it was Young — not Hirono — who fired back, responding,

I am deeply disappointed in the lady from Connecticut. This is a program that has been in existence since 1994, and you voted for it every time. This is not an earmark. This is an existing program. And I’ve heard you rail all night about restoring money, which are all earmarks. You’re dead wrong….I thought we were going to start a little bit of a bipartisan effort on this side, and I don’t see it when those people will take away from some of the most impoverished people who have not had that opportunity [to federally funded education].

DeLauro, for the record, ultimately voted in favor of the amendment. She could not be reached for comment.

BOTTOM LINE: Hirono says that she had to battle Democratic Party leadership to pass the Young-Hirono amendment. A Democratic Party leader, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, criticized the amendment as a “special favor.” But the congressional record reveals that her criticism was targeted at Rep. Don Young. While Hirono made remarks in support of the legislation, it was Young who stood up to DeLauro, according to the record. We find Hirono’s statement to be MOSTLY TRUE.

About the Author