By Melissa Tanji
Job creation, sustainability and the protection of social services were among the hot topic issues Maui residents brought up with U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono as the congresswoman held "coffee talk" sessions on Maui on Saturday.
In an interview with The Maui News in between her sessions, Hirono said to help with job creation, she would push for a jobs bill that will have the government invest in infrastructure construction for things such as roads and highways.
She said that in Congress there are discussions about establishing an "infrastructure bank" in which funding could be placed for such projects. She said the effort has the support of the AFLCIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She noted that there are many improvements needed in infrastructure all over the country.
On her day trip to Maui, Hirono, whose district covers rural Oahu and the Neighbor Islands, met with seniors at the Senior Fair at the War Memorial Gymnasium; spoke with around 30 people at a talk story session at the Alii Kula Lavender Farm; and ended her day at Da Kitchen Kahului, where at least 20 people came to ask questions and to listen.
Next year, Hirono, a Democrat, will seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka, who is retiring. Hirono faces former congressman Ed Case in the primary. Last week, Republican candidate Linda Lingle, who will also seek Akaka's seat, was on Maui speaking to the Maui Chamber of Commerce.
Asked about Lingle's entry, Hirono said, "I'm going to work really hard. I stand by the middle class and working people of this state and this country."
Hirono said there are people who "feel disappointed" in Lingle's leadership as governor. She noted that during Lingle's tenure Hawaii had the shortest school year in the nation because of furloughs, and that people still haven't forgotten the Superferry fiasco.
Hirono added that people also remember Lingle's efforts in the last presidential election where she supported the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin against Hawaii's native son and Democrat Barack Obama.
At the talk story session at Da Kitchen, Haiku resident John Cassel explained that he was happy when Obama was elected and hoped that environmental issues would rise to the forefront and be taken care of, but he added that now Obama seems to be letting environmental issues slide by.
"I don't think he's allowing it to happen," Hirono told Cassel.
Hirono blamed the Republican-controlled House. As an example, she said the House has been passing bills that would weaken the Environmental Protection Agency and laws such as the Clean Air and Clean Water act.
Earlier, Hirono told The Maui News that she will support continued funding for research and development of alternative energy.
"Hawaii can be a lead on that," she said, adding that the state has many renewable energy resources, such as the sun, wind and ocean.
But she said that in the House the Republicans still put their energies into drilling for oil.
"That is a limited way to look at our energy resources," she said.
In regards to residents' worries about Medicare and Social Security funding levels, Hirono told The Maui News that she's there to ensure the viability of those programs.
"I made that commitment," she said.