In this year of political turmoil, Hawaii voters have the chance to change the course of politics in Hawaii, and to make some history.

They can do that by electing Kim Coco Iwamoto as the state’s next lieutenant governor.

Kim Coco is a civil rights hero and the only truly progressive candidate in a race dominated by career politicians.

She will transform the Office of Lieutenant Governor into an office of advocacy for people who go unheard.

Judge Daniel Foley (at right) with Kim Coco Iwamoto and Foley’s wife, Carlyn Tani (at left), at the Nov. 5 campaign launch in Kakaako. Gregory S. Yamamoto

I first met Kim Coco Iwamoto at a Japanese American Citizens League of Honolulu annual dinner last year. She, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and I were being honored for our civil rights work. That is when I first heard her story.

I learned her mother was interned in Arizona during World War II for being Japanese-American. Her uncles were also locked up, and later released when they enlisted to fight for our country.

Half a century later, Kim Coco experienced discrimination by being terminated from a job because she is transgender. That prompted her to pursue a law degree to fight against discrimination for herself and others.

She’s An Advocate

Her legal career centered on representing those who could not afford an attorney. She worked with legal nonprofit organizations that served the poor and low income populations in Hawaii.

She served two terms on the Board of Education where she became a strong advocate for children, especially those who were bullied and neglected.

She served on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission where she fought against discrimination, whether it was based on race, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, language, marital status or disability.

So, when Kim asked me to chair her campaign for Lieutenant Governor, I jumped at the opportunity. It was clear to me Kim was running to make a difference. She was running for those who go unrepresented, for those that go unheard, for those without access to real decision making in government and corporate board rooms.

She worked with legal nonprofit organizations that served the poor and low income populations in Hawaii.

She is running to advocate for abused and neglected children, native Hawaiians seeking to exercise their traditional rights, those fighting for a clean and healthy environment, the poor, the homeless, prisoners, women who have been abused and treated as second-class citizens and members of the LGBT community.

Some may think that someone like Kim Coco doesn’t have a chance against established politicians with greater name recognition and financial resources. But, I know better.

On May 1, 1991, I filed a complaint in state court on behalf of three same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses. No country, no state, recognized marriage equality at that time. That complaint, and what followed, began a movement that led to marriage equality in all states of the union and in 25 countries.

We began without much public support and few resources. We won. We won because people in Hawaii and elsewhere rallied around inclusion and equal treatment for all. We were opposed by powerful interests. We still won because people refused to accept the status quo of inequality and injustice.

Please join our movement for equality and justice. We can do it again.

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