When we first started our Walk Story series of candidate interviews, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) was high on our list of prospective interviewees. While she wasn’t facing any hotly contested races (the senator won her 2018 reelection with nearly 70 percent of the vote), Hirono has become a topic of national interest for her straightforward willingness to call “bullshit” and challenge President Trump (and his nominees) on issues – qualities that we at MauiTime were eager to talk about. National events kept us from meeting last year, but when the senator and her team touched down on Maui last week, we were sure to make time to cruise with her down Market Street.
Born in Japan and the first Asian-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, Hirono speaks for many in Hawai‘i facing national stances on issues like the environment and immigration that don’t square with local values. The fanfare over her appearance in Wailuku Town made that much clear: To many, she’s treasured for bringing Hawai‘i spirit to D.C. and being unrelenting in her criticism.
As we stood at the corner of Main and Market Street, passers-by shouted their support out of car windows, and it seemed like every 10 feet the senator was stopped by someone thanking her for her service. While we didn’t get to talk about all the issues we would have liked to during our short walk (believe me, there are many), what did emerge was an insightful conversation on President Trump, the national emergency, and what to tell our children during these confusing times. Here are some highlights.
I especially want to thank you for making it, because we are in our first week of a new national emergency. What are your thoughts about that?
It’s only an emergency in the president’s mind. He created this chaos and now Hawai‘i is one of the states that has joined a lawsuit to challenge the president’s use of the National Emergency Act for this purpose. An emergency should be open and obvious – like maybe 9/11 and things like that – but this is an emergency that is not even an emergency. So I thank the court challenge, but this is what happens when the president makes these kinds of decisions that are purely political. When he says, “I don’t really have to do this,” I think that totally cuts against the emergency part of national emergency, but it then also results in chaos in Hawai‘i, California, and other states who use their resources to challenge this abusive exercise of powers. That’s taxpayers’ money going for a challenge that shouldn’t even happen.
Sadly, with this president, he does not care about the consequences of his decisions – note the totally unnecessary shutdown, the longest in history. The country lost – in addition to the harm that cost 800,000 federal workers and contractors, it cost our economy $11 billion, three billion of which will never be recovered – and he was prepared to do it again! But finally Congress, especially the Senate, acted like the separate branch of government that it is, despite Mitch McConnell who held off to the last possible moment to keep government running until the end of the fiscal year. We should never use the shutdown as a bargaining chip and the president used 800,000 federal employees as hostages for his vanity wall. That’s what it is: his vanity wall.
Of course we all care about border security, so there are many other ways to effect border security without erecting some kind of old fashioned huge wall that would cost billions and billions of dollars. Not to mention, by the way, if we’re talking about a thousand miles of wall, much of that area is in private hands. The government would have to engage in very long eminent domain proceedings to get their hands on the land that’s owned by ranchers in Texas. So many issues like that keep happening with this president, sad to say.
What kind of action are you and your colleagues in Congress planning to take?
One of the first things that’s going to happen is the house will pass – I’m sure they will pass because the House majority are now Democrats – a joint resolution to terminate the national emergency. This is a resolution that under the law has to be brought to the floor of the Senate, and we shall see whether the Republicans in the Senate will agree with us that this is not a national emergency. [Note: On Feb. 26, the House passed the resolution. It now heads to the Senate.] There are a lot of concerns about the president – any president – using these powers to deem something a national emergency whenever they feel like it. So there are Republicans who are concerned about the next president being a Democrat who might deem climate change a national emergency. There are concerns on both sides but the Republicans are still pretty much behind the president. I’m ready for them to wake up from whatever dream they’re in
You’ve been a vocal critic of the president and you made headlines last year during the [now Supreme Court Justice] Brett Kavanaugh hearings–
You know what prompted that – and it’s not as though I script any of this – but there was a reporter who asked whether the women on the Judiciary Committee have some kind of a special responsibility on the issues like sexual harassment and sexual assault. I said it’s not just the women, ‘cause who’s doing all this stuff mostly? It’s the men. So that’s why I said, men, “just shut up and step up.”
It spoke to me as a father. I have children and I struggle with what I tell my kids about the Age of Trump. I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon, the sexual harassment, the things that he says… What do you think we should be telling our children?
I think we have to be telling our children that the president is not anybody to emulate in terms of how divisive he is and what he talks about. I think I’m probably the first senator to say publicly on national TV that he lies every single day. That’s so unusual. It gives me no comfort to call the president a liar and a misogynist and an admitted sexual predator. It gives me no pleasure to characterize the president that way but he’s done nothing to change my mind.
As one father said to me, “How do I tell my son that lying is not good?” I think we have to distinguish the way the president behaves as not the way anyone should behave. Yes, they retort, “Well, but he’s the president.” But we’re losing our status internationally because of the way he behaves. We want to have a country where we have a leader who actually brings people together. This is a time when it’s OK to disagree with the president. In fact it’s important for us to disagree with the president and to say that we have other values, to really support families and keep communities together.
What else are you doing while you’re here on Maui?
It’s always good – I was just sitting there talking and these people came up to me. I’ll be going to the Maui Food Bank because I donated my shutdown salary to the three food banks in our state because the shutdown caused a lot of families to have to go to the food bank. I’ll be meeting with the Kalaupapa monument people because they are very intent on erecting a monument to acknowledge the 8,000 people sent to Kalaupapa.
Walk Story with Mazie and other politicians and candidates at Mauitime.com/WalkStory
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