KAHULUI - U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono rallied Maui Democrats on Saturday in a sometimes impassioned speech that recalled her impoverished beginnings as a Japanese immigrant, unapologetically acclaimed liberal ideals and took some shots at former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.
Addressing about 75 party faithful attending the Maui Democratic Party's convention at Lihikai Elementary School, Hirono said Hawaii residents are worried about keeping housing and jobs and buying groceries.
"Our families are facing a lot of challenges right now," the U.S. Senate candidate said, saying there are 40,000 people unemployed in Hawaii. "We are still in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono addresses the party faithful Saturday during the Maui County Democratic Party convention at Lihikai Elementary School in Kahului.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Hirono said she understands what people are going through because, when she was 8 years old, her mother brought her to Hawaii as an escape from a "terrible marriage" and "an abusive husband" in Japan.
"When we got off the ship, we literally had not much more than clothes on our backs," she said. "Those early years were very, very hard." She said her mother took low-paying work and had no job security, health care or vacation.
Hirono said her greatest fear as a child was that her mother would get sick and wouldn't be able to work. And, even when she did work, money would get scarce at the end of the month.
"We lived, in the beginning, in a one-room boardinghouse," she said, adding that she slept sideways on one bed with her mother.
"So I understand the struggles that the families are facing," she said. "This is why I'm so committed to helping the people of Hawaii. Our next senator should be someone who shares our values."
Those values include caring for elderly people, making sure that "Social Security and Medicare stay strong," she said.
"We are not going to balance the federal budget on the backs of seniors and working people, and women and children," Hirono said.
She said her emphasis is on jobs.
"We have to create jobs," she said. "We have to get our economy going."
Hirono asked her fellow Democrats to recall that President Barack Obama wants the United States to remain a country that still believes in equal opportunity and justice.
"Those are not just words to us," she said. "Those are goals that we need to continue to fight for. Or are we going to have a country that basically says: 'Everybody, if you're not rich, if you're not powerful, you're on your own.'"
Under that kind of mentality, she said, "we're going to keep giving the oil companies $4 billion of our tax money every single year; we're going to make sure the richest people in our country continue to get their tax breaks. Is that the kind of country you want?"
Her audience roared, "No!"
Then, she said, it would take "committed, engaged, fired-up Democrats" to make a difference and take the country in another direction.
Hirono never mentioned her Democratic primary opponent, former Congressman Ed Case, and assumed the mantle of being her party's nominee and the frontrunner for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel Akaka.
"The good news is that if the election were held next week, I'd win," she said. "The bad news is that it ain't next week. So, we need to continue to be engaged."
Hirono predicted that there would be "a lot of outside money" brought to Hawaii to help get Lingle elected to the Senate. She said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce already has spent $250,000 to try to improve Lingle's image in Hawaii and portray her as bipartisan.
"Even though, the last time she was on the national stage, she was seconding (Republican Alaska Gov.) Sarah Palin's nomination to be vice president of our country . . . and she went on the campaign trail, proudly she told us, for the McCain-Palin ticket," Hirono said.
In response, Lingle spokesman Lenny Klompus said that "just because Mazie Hirono repeats erroneous claims over and over again does not make them true."
He said Lingle is bipartisan and is a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Governors' Council, and her support from the U.S. chamber comes from her "many positions, including those that help local businesses that are the backbone of our economy."
"The fact is that Governor Lingle's primary concern is for the people of Hawaii," he said. "If elected to the U.S. Senate, Governor Lingle will not go to Washington to work for the next president, whether it's President Obama or the GOP candidate. She will not go to our nation's capital to work for (Republican) Senators Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid. Lingle will go to Washington to represent and work for the people of Hawaii.
"If proposed legislation is good for Hawaii, Governor Lingle will be for it; if it's bad for Hawaii, Governor Lingle will be against it, no matter who proposed it," Klompus said.
Hirono closed her remarks by saying she would bring great diversity to the U.S. Senate as a woman - the first Asian woman ever elected to the Senate - and an immigrant and a Buddhist.
"When I said this at another forum, somebody yelled out, 'Yes, but are you gay?' And I said, 'Nobody's perfect.' "
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.