Hirono learning the ropes
First-term lawmakers have to know their place in the Capitol pecking order
WASHINGTON » The last time Mazie Hirono lived here was 1978. She left town then with a law degree from Georgetown University.
Now when she journeys back to Honolulu, it is as the representative from Hawaii's 2nd District of rural Oahu and the neighbor islands.
With 1st District Rep. Neil Abercrombie at 67 and Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka both 82, Hirono, 59, is the youngest member of Hawaii's all-Democratic congressional delegation.
ON ASSIGNMENTHonolulu Star-Bulletin Capitol Bureau Chief Richard Borreca will be filing reports from Washington, D.C., all this week on Hawaii's congressional delegation as the new Democratic majority in Congress takes power.
Hirono brings her own qualifications to the job, having served 14 years in the state Legislature and eight as lieutenant governor.
In an interview in her still-bare Longworth Building congressional office, Hirono says she appreciates the unusualness of her situation.
"Back in college, I lived on the Hill and walked by the Capitol every single day. It is an awesome thing for me; I never would have thought that someday I would be here. I chose Georgetown because they have one of the strongest programs in public-interest law.
"I was one of the older law students. I never had the intention of competing for a spot in a big law firm. Making money was never the reason I wanted a law degree. I wanted to be involved in public-interest law," Hirono said.
Now Hirono is back at school studying the congressional system from the inside. She spent three days at Congress-sponsored bipartisan seminars in Williamsburg, Va., and is now figuring out the marble-lined maze that is the U.S. Capitol.
Hirono has been assigned to two committees, Transportation and Education and Labor, although she has yet to receive her subcommittee assignments.
Political scientist Ted Carmine, director of the Indiana University Center on Congress, had some suggestions for Hirono, noting that freshman members of Congress have little influence in committee or subcommittees selection.
"Leadership puts them on -- they try to put on the ones they prefer, but freshmen get last pickings," Carmine said.
At her Williamsburg seminars, Hirono said she learned the complicated rules of the House committees, including the order of asking questions.
"When questions are asked, it is not like the state Legislature. People can't just come and testify. They have to be invited or are subpoenaed," Hirono said.
Carmine adds that everything in the House runs on seniority. "Usually, freshmen don't carry much weight.
"The committee asks questions by seniority. First, the chairman begins the questioning, then the ranking member of opposition and go back and forth, until the junior member of the minority party. Sometimes they run out of time, and the freshmen never get to ask their questions," Carmine said.
Carmine's final advice for freshman members of Congress sounded almost parental: "Pay attention and keep quiet."