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View Point

By Jovita Rodas Zimmerman

Saturday, January 13, 2001

Filipinos make their
presence known in
state Senate

WHEN the state Legislature starts its session next week, Sen. Robert Bunda will preside as the Senate's new president. A Filipino, Bunda makes a historic break along with three other Filipino Americans -- Sens. Donna Mercado Kim, Lorraine Rodero Inouye and Ron Menor -- all remarkably representing the same ethnic strain.

They are significant as constituting the largest number of Filipinos ever to serve in the state Senate. Low political visibility, it seems, no longer works against the ethnic group in Hawaii.

Bunda of Wahiawa, having made it as Senate president, has yet to prove he is worth the prestigious position he sought. He tried running for Congress against Patsy Mink in 1996, and might try again.

There are, of course, in that august body, several strong-willed women who can challenge the male aspirants for the Senate presidency.

One of them could be Donna Mercado Kim, former Honolulu City Councilwoman and new chairwoman for Tourism and Intergovernmental Affairs. Her confrontational style as a Council member showed she was unafraid to fight Jeremy Harris, the current mayor.

Mug shots

Mercado Kim made a smart move by withdrawing in 1999 from the Council -- which limits members to two terms -- along with Mufi Hannemann, whom she supported for mayor. Both had two more years to go as Council members.

Kim rightly sensed that she could easily move into Senate President Norman Mizuguchi's 15th District when he decided not to run for re-election.

Rodero Inouye is another possibility for future leadership in the Senate. In the anthology, "Mabuhay and Aloha," her warmth and friendly personality are said to have been developed from her youthful days selling kankanen (Filipino rice cakes) during cockfights and Rizal Day activities.

She moved in her early 20s from an entry job in the hotel industry, to management at age 35, and finally to the Big Island's mayorship at age 49.

SHE was then an advocate of slowing the island's growth rate, and preferred not to delegate the mayor's powers but to actively be involved in governing and decision-making.

After being defeated by Steve Yamashiro, she became a state senator in 1998 and is now chairwoman of the Water, Land and Environment Committee.

Both Mercado Kim and Rodero Inouye are attractive and modern-looking with marital obligations along with their political careers.

Politics calls for a special breed of women. They must have stamina, determination, the persuasive powers to create the necessary networking, and the desire -- perhaps not short of a vision -- to prove their worth.

Recreation was Mercado Kim's major when she graduated cum laude from Washington State University. Rodero Inouye's many business experiences include the presidency of Aloha Blooms Inc.

Both women are true movers-and-shakers along with the two Filipino male senators. Both men have college degrees -- Bunda did graduate work at Dallas University and Menor has a law diploma from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

What exactly have the four Filipino senators accomplished for their constituents and the state? For brevity, each politician was asked to name his or her most memorable accomplishments.

Bullet Bunda, still savoring the pleasure of reaching consensus the day before he was interviewed, reveled in restoring the concept of single chairmanships for committees rather than co-chairs -- deemed by some as counterproductive. He also recalled his success in raising funds for Kauai when it was hit by Hurricane Iniki.

Bullet Menor's accomplishments came in the lower house. He is credited with lowering the costs for both automobile and workers' compensation insurance, and consistently working to eliminate unnecessary regulations to establish businesses in Hawaii. In the upcoming session, he will head the Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing Committee.

Bullet As a Council member, Mercado Kim helped ease parking problems for Salt Lake residents. She bargained a parking lot from Sukarman Sukamto, the original owner, and convinced him to have the lot cleared and asphalted. Next, she persuaded City Hall (with Mayor Fasi's blessings) to install parking meters. The lot has another use -- on Saturdays, residents flock to the area when the public market starts. Another highlight was her work to provide $98,000 in scholarship money for students from her district.

Bullet Rodero Inouye's staff failed to accommodate my request for an interview. But one can concede that Inouye has bragging rights of being the first Filipina to be mayor of the Big Island, as well as the first female to be a state senator for her increasingly visible and power-wielding ethnic group.

Jovita Rodas Zimmerman is the author of "Hawaii's Saints and Sinners."

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