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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 5, 2007

Hirono joins House with hope for change

 •  'What happened to ... religious tolerance?'

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, second from left, performs a ceremonial swearing-in of Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawai'i, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., yesterday. Members of the House were sworn in on the House floor earlier in the day. At left is Hirono's husband, Leighton Kim Oshima, and at right is mother Laura Hirono (next to Hirono).

HEATHER WINES | Gannett News Service

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WASHINGTON Mazie Hirono, sworn in yesterday as the newest member of Hawai'i's congressional delegation, said she was hopeful the new Democratic-controlled Congress will bring about a change in direction for the country.

"I'm very hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to do good things for the people of this country," said Hirono, a Democrat.

Those things include calling on the president to change direction in the Iraq war and eliminate some of the Bush administration's tax breaks for the wealthy, Hirono said.

Hirono joined 54 other new members of the House and 10 new members of the Senate who were sworn in for the new Congress, which began yesterday.

Hirono was surrounded by members of her family, including her 86-year-old mother (who was making her first trip to the Mainland), her husband, mother-in-law, niece and others.

Hirono, her family and staff later had their photo taken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the first female speaker in the nation's history.

Hirono said becoming a new House member was "an honor and a privilege," particularly with Pelosi's election yesterday as the nation's first female speaker of the House.

"I was really pleased to cast my vote for (Pelosi) in memory of (the late Rep.) Patsy Mink, because I know that Patsy had said to Nancy that one day you're going to be speaker. ... At that time, (Nancy) said 'No, no, no,' but here we are," Hirono said.

Hirono, 59, an attorney and former lieutenant governor, is the only new member of the state's congressional delegation. She joins three longtime members: Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and Sen. Dan Akaka, all Democrats.

Democrats have the majority in the new House with 233 seats. Republicans have 202 seats.

Abercrombie said the new Congress gives Democrats "a tremendous opportunity" to change the country's direction and they need to do so before the 2008 elections.

"My contention has been that the public fired the other guys (Republicans) but they didn't hire us (Democrats)," Abercrombie said. "We're on probation, so to speak."

The Senate is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, with 49 seats for each, but the Senate's two independents caucus with Democrats, giving them a 51-49 majority.

Akaka said he was "elated" to return to the Senate for another six-year term.

"Being sworn in again is an experience that you dream about," said Akaka, who will be chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "I feel that this is a time when we can make a difference in our country and in Hawai'i."

Hirono, one of Congress' first two Buddhists, won her election over Republican Bob Hogue, a former sportscaster, coach and columnist, with 61 percent of the vote.

Hirono said her background immigrating to the United States when she was 8, growing up in a single-parent family that was struggling financially and then having an opportunity for education and succeeding in life is a version of the American dream and permeates her outlook as a lawmaker.

"While our country is not perfect, I really believe it is still a place where there are opportunities," she said. "As a member of Congress, I'm very aware of the goal of creating opportunities for others and giving them a chance to succeed in life."

Hirono said her upbringing she was raised in Buddhist traditions but is not a daily practicing Buddhist and immigrant background also fuel her commitment to giving back to the country.

"It has to do with not just the values that my mother instilled in me because she certainly had a lot of courage and she took risks and she took care of her family, but she gave us a chance in life, and those are really important core life examples that I live by," she said.

"When I serve in the public (sector), I do my best in terms of what is good for the community, what is just, what is fair. Those are my guiding principles."

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.

Correction: The photo caption of Rep. Mazie Hirono being sworn into office should have identified the woman standing next to her as her mother, Laura Hirono, and the woman standing to the far right as her mother-in-law, Rosemary Oshima.