Honolulu Civil Beat’s Chad Blair spoke with U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono by telephone April 29.
The following is the transcript of that interview.
Chad Blair: Congresswoman, my article focuses on your re-election in the 2nd Congressional District, your record over the past four years, and the fact that Hawaii’s congressional incumbents rarely face serious challengers. There’s a question about whether or not uncontested races serve voters.
Rep. Hirono: I think things are changing. In ’06 and ’08 many new members were elected to Congress. There is a huge percentage that have only served two terms. There’s a big turnover going on. The times they are changing.
Chad Blair: Where are you on your re-election campaign?
Rep. Hirono: As always, I don’t take anything for granted. But at the same time I am reading the clippings every day about what’s going on in my state and my district. There are some good signs about the economy but at the same time a lot of conversation about the economy.
So, I am doing my best to overhear what I can do in Congress to support job creation. I’m spending a lot of time on that. We’re still in session and don’t finish until October, and we never finish on time. As we go along I am sure the campaign question and all of that will become much more prevalent.
Chad Blair: Are you running?
Rep. Hirono: Of course!
Chad Blair: What are your chances of re-election?
Rep. Hirono: Good, I hope, but I never take anything for granted. I really think I will continue to be responsive to constituents, do a good job here, and that (if) my constituents think I am doing a good job, “Let’s send her back.”
Chad Blair: What would you say have been your key accomplishments in office?
Rep. Hirono: The fact that I sit on two really important committees that impact Hawaii, the House Committee on Education and Labor and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Education and Labor Committee is one of three in the House that has prime jurisdiction over health care, and in that committee I was able to put forth an amendment to exempt Hawaii’s prepaid health care law in the heath care bill. There was a lot of education that had to occur — most people in Congress don’t know anything about Hawaii’s prepaid health care law. It also will enable Hawaii’s health-care system to be relatively stable with the federal law.
Chad Blair: What about transportation? That’s an important issue in your rural district.
Rep. Hirono: As we author a transportation bill, I will push for Hawaii projects. This is a huge committee and Hawaii’s voice needs to be heard. We have unique things because we are an island state — airports, harbors, highways. I also know that the state of Hawaii needs help with its infrastructure because we have been behind the eight ball on that in terms of parlaying some of the support from the federal government. This is separate from the (2009) stimulus package, but it is all part and parcel. I have the ear of committee chairman (Jim) Oberstar, who is seen as an acknowledged leader on transportation.
I have co-sponsored so many bills on job creation and the economic sector that we passed out of the House, so I really pay attention that I am on the bills supporting Hawaii’s economy but also the economy of the country.
Chad Blair: You’ve been in close elections in your career. How important is it for Hawaii voters to have contested elections?
Rep. Hirono: Well, I’ve never had a free ride — never. So I always see a benefit in contested elections, and that means the people have a choice. I would not know what it is like otherwise.
Chad Blair: But what about races that are decided by a 2-to-1 margin or 3-to-1, as many races in Hawaii are, including for the Legislature? No congressional incumbent from Hawaii has ever lost re-election.
Rep. Hirono: I think a majority of people in Hawaii define themselves as independent. Therefore, the fact that more often than not they vote for Democrats means we are more in tune with their concerns and priorities.
Chad Blair: Your past two predecessors in office were very active. During Ed Case’s four years or so, he traveled a lot overseas and back to the district. The late Patsy Mink, of course, was a legend. Do you feel pressure to live up to them?
Rep. Hirono: There are many of my colleagues, most of my colleagues who view me as a person very much in line with Patsy in terms of philosophy and priorities and what we care about. In the previous Congress, before my election in 2006, congressional meetings were under the Republicans who controlled the House. The meetings were only two or three days a week, so that enabled some members from Hawaii to go home every week. More power to them, but that’s not getting work done in Congress and that’s not what we have now (under Democrats). We vote four to five days a week now.
Chad Blair: Congresswoman, is there anything you want to add, something you didn’t have a chance to talk about?
Rep. Hirono: Whenever I go home I spend a lot of time touching base with small businesses, with educators, because that is a really important part of what I do on behalf of folks back home — it’s foundational. I meet with a lot of people, visit schools, meet with health-care workers and seniors and the leadership on the county islands. And I listen to their priorities and reflect those priorities in what I do here.