Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1)

Colleen Hanabusa Congresswoman Hawaii District 1

Colleen Hanabusa Biography from

Biography of Colleen Hanabusa

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa proudly represents Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District. She brings to Washington a passionate, hardworking and fearless approach to advocacy, honed by more than three decades spent fighting for the rights of her clients in the halls of justice and her constituents on the floor of the Hawaii State Legislature. Congresswoman Hanabusa, a yonsei, fourth generation American of Japanese ancestry, whose grandparents were interned during World War II, has dedicated her life to service and is committed to providing for the people of Hawaii while preserving the unique values and traditions that define the Aloha spirit.


Congresswoman Hanabusa’s maternal great-grandparents were among the 200,000 Japanese who emigrated from Japan between 1885 and 1924 to work on the Hawai‘i sugar plantations. Her grandparents set the family roots in Waianae, on the Leeward Coast of Oahu, when they were born on and worked for the Waianae Plantation. Her maternal grandfather worked as a carpenter on the plantation and built and maintained the water flumes which carried water through the sugarcane fields from Makaha and Waianae Valley to Lualualei.

Her paternal great-grandparents were well known around the plantation. They made a living by making and selling tofu to the workers. And her paternal grandfather, known as Sampan Joe, was a fisherman who sold his catch to the plantation store every day.

Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, both of her grandfathers were placed in internment camps. Grandpa Hanabusa was sent to the mainland and Grandpa Muroda went to Honouliuli on Oahu, because of their work as founders of the Waianae Hongwanji Mission.

Congresswoman Hanabusa was raised by Grandma Muroda while her hardworking parents, Isao and June, ran their popular gas station in their hometown of Waianae. Her father worked for Gaspro, Inc. and served as a director for the successor entity, Lenakona, Inc. until the day he died.


  • 1969: Graduated from St. Andrew’s Priory
  • 1973: Graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Sociology
  • 1975: Graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Master of Arts in Sociology.
  • 1977: Earned her law degree from the William S. Richardson School of Law.


In November 1998, Congresswoman Hanabusa was elected to serve the people of the Twenty-First District as their State Senator. She was victorious in her first ever run for public office and immediately people recognized her talents and desire to improve the lives of Hawaii’s working families.

Her state legislative accomplishments include:

  • 2001-2002: Vice-President of the State Senate and Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means
  • 2001: Co-Chair of the Joint Senate-House Investigative Committee concerning the Felix Consent Decree
  • 2003-2004: Co-Chair of the Joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement
  • 2003-2006: Chair of the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee and Majority Leader

In November 2006, she was elected President of the Senate, the first woman to lead either house in the Hawai‘i legislature.

Along with her legislative work, Congresswoman Hanabusa is also an attorney with more than three decades of experience. She has championed the causes of labor, preserving and protecting the environment and stood up for communities she saw being bullied by private interest.

  • Since 1993: Recognized by Honolulu Magazine’s as “One of Hawai`i’s A+ Attorneys.”
  • 2004: Received the prestigious AV rating by Martindale-Hubbell, the top rating any lawyer can achieve.
  • 2009: The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity presented her with the Spirit of Excellence Award.

Congresswoman Hanabusa is married to Honolulu businessman John Souza. They have a 7 year-old Border Collie named Little, who enjoys a farm fresh egg every morning for breakfast, specially prepared by John.

Biography from Hanabusa for Hawaiʻi

Deep Roots

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa represents the people of Hawai‘i’s First Congressional District. Colleen is a yonsei, a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose great-grandparents immigrated to Hawai‘i in the 1880s to work on the Waianae sugar plantation. Her roots foretell a life of service, hard work, and sharing the deep-seated values of countless Hawai‘i families whose ancestors came here to follow their hopes and dreams.

Her maternal grandparents, the children of immigrants, were born on and worked for the Waianae Plantation. As a plantation carpenter, her grandfather built and maintained the flumes carrying water from Mahaka and Waianae Valley to Lualualei.

Her paternal great-grandparents were entrepreneurs who made and sold tofu to the plantation. Called “Sampan Joe” by some, Colleen’s grandfather was the plantation fisherman who sold his catch to the plantation store.

During World War II, both of Colleen’s grandfathers were interned. Her Hanabusa Jichan was sent to the mainland, while Grandpa Muroda went to Honouliuli because of his work as a founder of the Waianae Hongwanji Mission. In 1977, the Emperor of Japan recognized Ojichan with the 6th Class Order of the Sacred Treasure Award for his work in community service.

Rep. Hanabusa 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. With June and Isao running the family business, Colleen’s maternal grandmother raised her.

Colleen graduated from St. Andrew’s Priory, and then attended the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Sociology in 1973, and a Master of Arts in Sociology in 1975. In 1977, she earned her law degree from the William S. Richardson School of Law.

Today, Colleen and her husband, John, divide their time between Colleen’s First District apartment in Kakaako and the couple’s house in Ko Olina; they live with their beloved dog, Little.

Ikebana, Strong and Balanced

Growing up, Japanese language school, Sunday school, and ikebana lessons complemented Colleen’s regular schooling. She learned Japanese flower arranging from the ikebana master Reverend Hakuai Oda.

Ikebana, Congresswoman Hanabusa will tell you, 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 her respect for her elders and native Hawaiians, and her service to the people of Hawai‘i.

The ikebana philosophy, along with the work ethic and social awareness instilled in her by her family, planted the seeds of Colleen’s commitment to improving the lives of residents in her community by pursuing a career as an attorney and lawmaker.

Serving the People of Hawai‘i

Colleen got involved in public service to fight for low-income communities like the ones on Oahu’s Leeward Coast, where she grew up. After earning her B.A., M.A. and J.D. from the University of Hawai‘i, Colleen was a labor lawyer for over 30 years, thriving in a traditionally male-dominated area of practice.

In November 1998, Colleen Hanabusa first ran for public office, and was elected to the State Senate by the people of Hawai‘i’s 21st District to represent the Leeward Coast where she had grown up. From the beginning, people saw Colleen’s potential to deliver results and accomplish great things.

In 1999, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin called the first-time lawmaker the “Leader of the Pack” for standing out in the crowd of 13 members of the Legislature’s freshman class. In her freshman year, Hanabusa served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Water, Land & Hawaiian Affairs (1999-2000), a time she describes as one of the most rewarding periods in her legislative career. In 2006, she was elected President of the Senate—the first woman to lead either house in the Hawai‘i legislature, and the first Asian-American woman to lead a chamber of a state legislative body. Colleagues on both sides of the aisle have described her as independent, outspoken, and courageous.

Throughout her years in public service, Colleen Hanabusa has advanced countless pieces of legislation and overseen important committees that benefit the interests of the people of Hawai‘i. She has held the state’s Departments of Education and Health accountable, ensuring they spent tax dollars wisely to address the needs of special education children, and to establish effective solutions – including early prevention, better treatment, and stiffer penalties – for the growing crystal meth drug problem.

Colleen Hanabusa has been recognized numerous times for her role as an effective lawmaker, including being named outstanding legislator by several organizations. She is a Lifetime Member in The National Registry of Who’s Who, and has been recognized in “The Best Lawyers in America” (1995-2009). Since 1993, she has been noted in Honolulu Magazine as “One of Hawai‘i’s A+ Attorneys.” In 2004, she received the prestigious AV rating by Martindale-Hubbell, the highest rating among lawyers. In 2009, the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity presented Colleen Hanabusa with the Spirit of Excellence Award.

Standing Up for Us in Washington

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. Colleen wrote an amendment to require oil companies to demonstrate that they’re capable of responding immediately and effectively to prevent environmental damage in the event of a disaster before they’re allowed to drill offshore; Big Oil won, and the bill passed without Hanabusa’s common-sense amendment.

Colleen Hanabusa is getting results. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified before the House Armed Services Committee in March 2011, Rep. Hanabusa held him accountable, asking him how the Defense Department could afford the military actions in Libya while aiding in recovery efforts for the Japanese tsunami. When the Republicans put the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, located in Oahu, on the chopping block, Colleen Hanabusa stood up for our communities, and gave her full-throated support for the Center in her testimony before the Budget Committee. And when it came time to ensure that Hawai‘i’s special military role was preserved, Colleen Hanabusa worked to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, providing Hawai‘i with more than $500 million dollars for vital military construction projects around the state.

That’s Colleen Hanabusa: strong and balanced. A common-sense voice with uncommon results.

Do you know where you still on the political spectrum? See “Political Beliefs, Where Are You” to find out where you stand.

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