The U.S. senator from Hawaii talked about a wide range of issues during the 7th Annual Hawaii on the Hill event in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Here are a few things you might not know about U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono:

She prefers cats over dogs. The sparkled studs on her shoes are made of machine washable plastic. And she hates paying $5 for a spam musubi when staying in Washington, D.C.

These are just a few of the revelations from an hour-long question and answer session that Hirono participated in Tuesday as part of the annual “Hawaii on the Hill” event that she co-hosts with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono took centerstage at the 7th Annual Hawaii on the Hill event in Washington, D.C. (Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2023)

The event, which is in its seventh year, seeks to showcase island businesses in the nation’s capital and drive policy discussions relevant to the state’s economy. It’s the first time in three years that the event has been held in person due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tuesday’s talk was moderated by Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara and attended by dozens of business leaders from the islands as well as a number of elected officials, including Senate President Ron Kouchi, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Carmen Hulu Lindsey.

While Menor-McNamara asked Hirono questions about some of the most vexing challenges facing the country, from political polarization to the rise of artificial intelligence, it was a relatively light discussion.

“She told me she’s not asking me anything hard and that better be because it’s not even 9 o’clock in the morning,” Hirono said of Menor-McNamara as the crowd laughed. “We’re all friends here.”

The 75-year-old Hirono, who is up for election in 2024, talked about many of the issues that are important to her, including immigration, the desire to implement an ethics code for U.S. Supreme Court justices and the need to protect women’s rights after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

She discussed her worldview and how it was shaped in large part by her mother, who moved back to the U.S. from Japan after Hirono was born to escape an abusive husband and the struggles she faced when arriving in the islands.

“I know the sting of discrimination and the sting of being poor so that is what I carry for the people that I fight for,” Hirono said. “I know who I fight for and why.”

Sherry Menor-McNamara, of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, was the moderator for a talk story session with U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. (Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2023)

She also talked briefly about her own evolution as a politician and her decision to speak out against former President Donald Trump, who she said presented a daily assault on democracy and the body politic.

“In Hawaii, we’re not exactly encouraged to use our voices and be aggressive, but we all have that capacity, we all have voices,” she said. “This is not about finding your voice, this about using your voice.”

But some of the most engaging moments came when Hirono talked about everyday life, from packing her suitcase with laulau and manapua when she visits Hawaii to her love of the Korean boy band, BTS, and the fact that her “bias” — which is Kpop slang for favorite member — is Jung Kook.

“We are here to be of help to people, and I do that a lot,” Hirono said of her work as a U.S. senator. “But we all have these other things that make us happy and that I think that’s really important.”

“And I love BTS and I’m proud of it!” she exclaimed.

Menor-McNamara told Civil Beat after the event that the purpose of having Hirono address Hawaii on the Hill attendees was to give them an insight into some of the work that she and others are doing in Washington on their behalf.

It also provided them an opportunity to see the senator as a person, she said, and not just someone who toils away thousands of miles away from the islands.

“We often only see Senator as Senator talking about policy,” Menor McNamara said. “This is a side that not many know.”

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