Taking a Stand: Despite battling cancer, Sen. Hirono shines in national spotlight


U.S. Sen Mazie Hirono. Kyodo file photo

U.S. Sen Mazie Hirono. Kyodo file photo

Editor’s Note: Mazie Hirono made history in 2012, when she became the first elected female senator from Hawai‘i, the first Asian American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, the first U.S. senator born in Japan, and the nation’s first Buddhist senator. In the middle of a turbulent political year, she announced in May 2017 that she was battling Stage 4 kidney cancer, and underwent surgery to remove a kidney. Yet she still managed to speak up passionately about the need for affordable health care, and disclosed her own struggles against sexual harassment as part of the #MeToo movement sweeping the country. For her impassioned advocacy while fighting her own personal battle, the Nichi Bei Weekly is proud to name U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono as our Nikkei of the Year.

Mazie Keiko Hirono, the United States senator from Hawai‘i, has achieved many firsts in her political career. She is the first U.S. senator born in Japan, the first female senator from Hawai‘i, the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate, and the first Buddhist senator.

Born in Fukushima, Japan on Nov. 3, 1947, Hirono immigrated to Hawai‘i as a child with her divorced mother and two brothers. A graduate of Honolulu’s Kaimuki High School and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, she earned her juris doctorate from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1978.

Hirono previously served in the Hawai‘i House of Representatives, as Hawai‘i lieutenant governor, and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Where’s the Compassion?
The Democrat has been passionate about making affordable health care available to all Americans, and in a Senate speech July 28, 2017, argued that a Republican-backed bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would “hurt millions and millions of people in our country and especially the sickest, poorest and oldest among us.”

“My mother brought me and my brothers to this country so we could have a chance at a better life,” Hirono recalled. “My mother had low-paying jobs … Growing up as a young girl in Hawai‘i, my greatest fear was that my mother would get sick. And if she got sick, how were we going to pay for her care?”

When Hirono was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer (her right kidney was surgically removed) in May 2017, she heard from many of her Senate colleagues, including many Republicans, “who wrote me wonderful notes sharing with me their own experiences with major illnesses in their families or with their loved ones.”

“I’m just so grateful that I had health insurance, so that I could concentrate on the care that I needed rather than how the heck I was going to afford the care that was gonna probably save my life,” she said.

Hirono asked why Congress would vote to eliminate health care for 16 million people. “Where is your compassion? Where’s the care that you showed me when I was diagnosed with my illness?”

That GOP bill didn’t pass.

Calls Trump Predator, Liar
Critical of a culture that tolerates sexual predators, Hirono, on NBC News Dec. 12 singled out the world’s most prominent accused sexual harasser, President Donald Trump. “He’s a misogynist and admitted sexual predator and a liar. The only thing that will stop him from attacking us — because nobody is safe — is his resignation.”

Hirono, on Facebook Dec. 6, asked another alleged harasser, Sen. Al Franken, to step aside. “I’ve struggled with this decision because he’s been a good senator and I consider him a friend. But that cannot excuse his behavior and his mistreatment of women.”

Hirono noted that “there are men among us who use their positions of power and influence to manipulate, harass, and assault women … Women have endured this behavior, which for too long has been ignored and tolerated, but no longer.”

Pandering to the NRA
An advocate of strict gun control laws, Hirono expressed disappointment in 2016 when the Feinstein Amendment — banning firearm sales to persons on the terror watchlist — and a GOP background check bill were defeated.

“Today, Senate Republicans sent a clear message that they are more interested in pandering to special interests such as the National Rifle Association than taking steps to prevent tragedies like Orlando, like Newton, like Charleston, from happening again,” Hirono stated. “I will continue to fight alongside the millions of Americans demanding action.”

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