I am privileged to serve the people of Hawaii in the United States Senate. As an immigrant who grew up under difficult circumstances, I recognize that my path to the Senate was unlikely. At the same time, my experiences have shown me the incredible opportunities available in America and have fueled my desire to give back.
I owe much to the courage and determination of my mother. My early childhood was spent on my grandparents' rice farm in Fukushima, Japan. My mother sent me to live with my grandparents because of family circumstances. My father was an alcoholic and compulsive gambler and I did not get to know him much. As a result, our family had little stability or money. At times, he would even sell my mother's belongings to gamble away.
But instead of watching our family continue to suffer, my mother made the courageous decision to seek a better life for us. She plotted and planned in secret, and when I was nearly eight years old, we literally escaped to this place called Hawaii and this country called America. My mother, brother and I boarded the President Cleveland in Yokohama and crossed the Pacific in steerage.
Like many immigrants, our new life was not easy. In the beginning, my mother worked at a Japanese language newspaper for minimum wages with no benefits. She worked two jobs as a single mother to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. We didn't have much, but we persevered.
Thanks to my mother's courage, I was able to take advantage of the educational opportunities available in Hawaii's public schools. When I began elementary school, I neither spoke nor read English. My love of reading was awakened by class trips to our school library where our librarian read to us books like Mary Poppins. I also remember being a student cashier in elementary school to pay for my lunches.
My time at the University of Hawaii at Manoa opened my eyes to a life in public service and advocacy. Through volunteer and tutor work, including weekly visits with patients at the state mental health facility, I saw how important it was for underserved populations to be heard. Participating in grassroots student protests over the Vietnam War and what our government was doing was my political awakening and a path that eventually led me to elected office as a way of being of service.
I went to law school to develop the skills I would need to more effectively advocate for others. I attended Georgetown University Law Center because it had a strong clinical program and I wanted to focus on public interest law. After graduation, I worked in the antitrust division of the Hawaii attorney general's office.
Although prior to law school I had helped many others run for office, I had not thought about becoming a candidate myself. However, with the encouragement of others, I successfully ran for a seat in the Hawaii House of Representatives in 1980. As chair of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee, I focused on greater protections for Hawaii's workers and consumers.
After serving more than a decade in the House, I was elected lieutenant governor in 1994. I led an effort to revamp Hawaii's workers' compensation insurance laws, saving businesses millions. I also helped lead state efforts to improve early childhood education and promote Hawaii's tourism industry through visa reform, issues I continue to champion in the U.S. Senate.
As my party's first female nominee for governor, although I lost the race in 2002, I wanted to help other women running for office and founded the Patsy T. Mink PAC in 2004 to that end. Congresswoman Patsy Mink, for whom Title IX was renamed after her death, was my friend and her legacy lives on in schools and universities across the country.
In 2006, I was elected to Congress by voters in Hawaii's second congressional district, representing the seat once held by Patsy. During my time in the House, our nation and state faced incredible challenges and opportunities. I supported struggling families by preserving Hawaii's pre-paid health care law, teamed up with colleagues across the aisle to protect Native Hawaiian education programs, became a nationally recognized advocate for quality early childhood education, promoted food and energy sustainability and sponsored legislation to support Hawaii's critical tourism industry and create jobs.
With the retirement of Senator Daniel Akaka, the people of Hawaii elected me to the U.S. Senate, where I serve as the first Asian American woman and first woman senator from Hawaii. As Hawaii’s United States Senator, I have put the values, people, and communities of Hawaii at the forefront of my work every day. Whether it is welcoming Hawaii visitors to my Washingotn D.C. office for weekly Talk Story events, bringing aloha to our nation’s Capital as part of the annual Hawaii on the Hill showcase of local businesses, or sitting down with and helping Hawaii constituents and businesses cut through federal red tape at home, my work as a Senator is driven by my connection to Hawaii and energized by the people and place that we call home.
Working collaboratively both with Hawaii stakeholders and my colleagues in Washington, I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish. As a member of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees I have the opportunity to work on important legislation that highlights and supports Hawaii’s critical role in our nation’s security in the Asia-Pacific region and honors our commitments to servicemembers, veterans, and their families. Legislation I’ve authored to honor our Filipino World War II Veterans, promote clean energy use by the military, expand opportunities for Hawaii small businesses, and invest in the education, training, and treatment of servicemembers from their time in uniform to their transition home are some of my proudest accomplishments in these areas.
Efforts to take away health care, slash funding for public schools, or undermine the civil rights that so many rely on are things that I strongly oppose and have fought against. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee I have worked to promote these values in fighting against unqualified nominations, promote fairer treatment of immigrants and minority groups, and protect the civil rights of everyone.
It is a privilege to do my very best for Hawaii in the U.S. Senate. With my background and experiences, I never forget where I came from or who I fight for and why.
- Residence: Honolulu, HI
- Education: Kaimuki High School, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Georgetown University Law Center
- Husband: Leighton Kim Oshima
- Sworn in: January 3, 2013
- Cat: Hemic
- United States Senate Committee on Armed Services
- Subcommittee on Seapower (Ranking Member)
- United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
- Subcommittee on the Constitution (Ranking Member)
- United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
- United States Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
- United States Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs