No matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States promises to be a transformational event for Hawaii as well as the rest of the country.

Moreover, with Congress solidly Republican there is great potential for major policy and budget decisions that will have a big impact on the islands, which are more dependent than most states on federal spending.

Trump’s policies and attitudes about important issues are already starting to take shape as he appoints his cabinet and escalates his public appearances. It will be an interesting four years for issues like climate change, health care, military spending and other things we care deeply about here in Hawaii.

Kirstin Downey Civil Beat. 12 dec 2016
Veteran reporter Kirstin Downey has joined Civil Beat as our new federal government reporter. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

And Hawaii’s congressional delegation also has a critical role to play in shaping decisions that will affect the islands, especially with a new congresswoman (kinda sorta), Colleen Hanabusa, getting settled in.

That’s why we believe it’s imperative that as journalists we begin focusing on the new administration and federal issues now, even though the inauguration is still five weeks away.

So please say aloha to Kirstin Downey, our new full-time federal government reporter. She’ll focus on enterprise stories and in-depth reporting that aims to get out in front of developments that will affect the islands — decisions about the military, veterans, health care, climate change, energy and environmental policy and transportation (rail) developments, to name a few. She’ll keep a close eye on federal spending and how that may be affecting the Hawaii economy.

You can read Kirstin’s in-depth bio here, along with some of the stories she’s already contributed. But here are a few things you should know about her.

After attending Kailua High School, Kirstin went off to Penn State University and then embarked on a successful journalism career on the mainland that took her from small newspapers in Colorado and Florida to the San Jose Mercury News in California and eventually to The Washington Post.

She has a strong background in business and financial reporting, including coverage of the savings and loan crash of the 1990s. At The Washington Post, Kirstin won a number of awards for her coverage of economic, political and financial issues.

She took a brief break from the Post in 2001 to participate in the Nieman fellowship program at Harvard University, a coveted spot she won after her work on sexual harassment in the workplace.

She returned to the newsroom just two weeks before the terrorist attacks of 2001 and played a key role in the paper’s coverage of that event.

The dangerous growth in toxic mortgages was another major focus area for Kirstin, who wrote dozens of stories that raised concerns about government regulators’ lax oversight and told the human stories of the people who suffered through the crisis, including the foreclosures that devastated families. In 2007, she used data-driven reporting for stories about loans that targeted minorities, immigrants and young families.

In 2008, Kirstin was a member of the Post’s metro staff that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the deadly shootings at Virginia Tech. Kirstin profiled two heroic professors who died that day protecting their students.

After leaving the Post, Kirstin continued her work on the mortgage loan crisis and its role in the economic meltdown of 2008 as an investigator and writer for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (the Angelides Commission).

More recently, she has been writing books, including a biography of Frances Perkins, “The Woman Behind the New Deal,” and another about the Queen Isabella of Spain, “Isabella the Warrior Queen.” She’s currently working on a book about Hawaii.

Kirstin will be the only full-time Washington, D.C.-based journalist employed by a Hawaii media organization. But she’ll spend time here in Honolulu as well, so she’ll have a closer relationship with the organizations and the people who are most affected by the federal government’s role in Hawaii.

“We’re going to be looking out for the people of Hawaii,” Kirstin says.

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