Mazie Hirono says the president of the United States does something every single day that makes her feel like her head will explode.
The Democratic U.S. senator from Hawaii says maintaining opposition to Republican Donald Trump is a major reason why she’s seeking another six years in Washington, D.C.
“Every day that I have the privilege of serving the people of Hawaii, I know who I fight for and why,” she said Wednesday as she filed her campaign paperwork at the State Office of Elections downtown. “There are people in our country, in our communities who are being marginalized and discriminated (against) every single day. I fight for them.”
They include kupuna relying on Social Security and Medicare, labor unions that want to retain the right to organize and bargain for wages and benefits, immigrants seeking a better life, LGBTQ folks seeking equal rights and environmentalists wanting to save the planet.
Representatives from those groups and others, including members of the Sierra Club and Randy Perreira, president of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, stood behind Hirono and her husband, Leighton Oshima, as she formally launched her re-election campaign.
“This administration makes these fights so much harder, which is why we all need to fight together,” said Hirono, who by my count said the word “fight” or some form of it more than a half dozen times in less than 15 minutes.
Hirono’s other fight is cancer, and I asked her for an update on that front. She was expecting it.
“Thank you for the question,” she replied. “I am asked that often. You know, I’ve been very open about my health challenge because I think it’s really important to let my constituents know that, in spite of the fact that I am still in treatment, that nothing about this treatment prevents me from doing my job.”
She continued: “And my doctors are very optimistic, and I just want to let you know that it is a long-term kind of a treatment process. But I’m optimistic and certainly that optimism is shared by my doctors.”
Hirono announced she had been diagnosed with kidney cancer in May after a pre-operative physical for eye surgery. It was also found in her seventh rib.
She received treatment at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital to remove her right kidney and the lesion on the rib.
In October, doctors found small spots on her thyroid gland. Hirono began undergoing immunotherapy, which her office described in a press release at the time as “different than chemotherapy, which suppresses the immune system.”
On Wednesday, Hirono, 70, said the immunotherapy continues.
“It’s an infusion of the FDA approved drug, and the whole point of it is that my own immune system will kick in and destroy the cancer cells,” she explained. “So, as I said, it’s a longterm kind of a treatment, and I am part of a protocol that involves people like me in different medical settings. My hope is that, of course, not only do I get better but that the treatment process will enable more information so that people who have the kind of challenges that I have will be helped.”
Two months before the campaign filing deadline Hirono faces no serious challenger and likely will not. She is very popular in her party and she has evolved in her national office as an outspoken critic of Trump.
While never strong on the stump — she has a halting speaking style and tends to repeat familiar statements — she nonetheless crushed Ed Case in the Democratic primary in 2012 by 57 percent to 40 percent, and rolled over Republican Linda Lingle in the general election by 62 percent to 37 percent.
As of Friday, four Republicans, two nonpartisans and one other Democrat had pulled papers, but most voters have never heard of them. No U.S. senator from Hawaii has lost a re-election bid, and any well-known local politician that is considering a challenge to Hirono has to factor in whether it might appear ill-advised.
Besides, all of the political oxygen in 2018 is being sucked up by the Hawaii governor’s race, which includes two Democratic challengers to Gov. David Ige, and the crowded race to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is running against Ige in the primary.
The biggest oxygen consumer, of course, is in the White House, and Hirono clearly relishes criticizing Trump and his administration.
Just last month, she asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about reports that his department removed references to climate change from documents.
“I challenge you — any member — to find a document that we’ve actually changed on a report,” he told her. “And I read them all. I don’t change a comma.”
Tuesday, Hirono tweeted, “It appears that @reveal has found otherwise. If true, this report illustrates yet again that the Trump administration both disdains science and lacks integrity.”
Nothing about this treatment prevents me from doing my job. — Sen. Mazie Hirono
According to an April 2 report from the Reveal journalism site, part of the Center For Investigative Reporting, “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge, contradicting Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vow to Congress that his department is not censoring science.”
One gets the sense that Hirono would be happy to engage in debate with any opponent, should there be one. From immigration to health care to defense to trade to you-name-it, the Trump administration continues to give her so much material to get fired up about.
But Hirono can also expect to continue to be asked about her health. In many ways, it has actually helped a politician who can sometimes have a reserved bearing make a new connection with voters.
“I feel that this is really purposeful for me to undergo this treatment,” she said. “And I am really grateful that having been open about what I’m facing, that people come up to me all over, at airports and other places, and they share their own health challenges and their own cancer battles. And it means a lot to me that they feel that connection with me and that they can express their own fears and concerns, and they know that I stand with them.”
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