Colleen Hanabusa got involved in public service to fight for low-income communities like the ones on Oahu’s Leeward Coast, where she grew up. A yonsei, Colleen is a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose great-grandparents immigrated to Hawai’i in the 1880s to work on the Waianae sugar plantation. Her heritage foretells a life of service, hard work, and the deep-seated values shared by countless Hawai’i families whose ancestors came here to follow their hopes and dreams.
Colleen is the daughter of June and Isao Hanabusa, who ran a well-known gas station in Waianae. Her father worked for a kamaaina company, Gaspro, Inc., and to the day he died, served as a director for the successor entity, Lenakona, Inc. Because her parents were busy running the family business, Colleen was raised by her maternal grandmother.
Growing up, Colleen’s regular schooling was complemented by Japanese language school, Sunday school, and Ikebana lessons taught to her by the Rev. Hakuai Oda.
Ikebana provides a foundation of values for the way she lives today. The shin, or main branch, is what sets the arrangement; if your shin is not strong and balanced, the arrangement will fall. Colleen’s shin is the basis for her respect for her elders and native Hawai’ians, and her service to the people of Hawai‘i.
Colleen graduated from St. Andrew’s Priory, then attended the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Sociology in 1973, and Master of Arts in Sociology in 1975. In 1977, she earned her law degree from the William S. Richardson School of Law. For more than 30 years, Colleen worked as an attorney in labor law, a traditionally male-dominated practice.
In November 1998, Colleen first ran for office, and was elected to the state senate. From the beginning, people saw Colleen’s leadership potential. In 2006, after years of delivering results, Colleen was elected President of the Senate, becoming the first woman to lead either house of the Hawai’i state legislature.
In November 2010, the people of Hawai’i’s first congressional district elected Colleen Hanabusa to represent them in the U.S. House. From day one, Colleen has stood up for Hawai’i, holding national leaders accountable and supporting fair, common-sense legislation. Though a freshman lawmaker, she’s already making an impact in Washington.
Colleen fought to prevent the Republican government shutdown and defeat Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare and Medicaid as we know it. She cosponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act to try and end the shame of women earning 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. When the Republicans put the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (located in Oahu) on the chopping block, Colleen made a stand, gave her full-throated support for the Center before the Budget Committee, and helped save it from the chopping block. And when it came time to ensure that Hawai’i’s special military role was secured, Colleen Hanabusa worked to deliver more than $500 million for vital military construction projects in Hawai’i.
That’s Colleen Hanabusa: strong and balanced; a common-sense voice with uncommon results.