About Colleen Hanabusa
Colleen was born in Honolulu and raised in Wai‘anae where her parents, Isao and June, ran a gas station.
A fourth-generation American of Japanese Ancestry, Colleen is a proud Yonsei. Colleen’s maternal great-grandparents emigrated from Japan to Hawai‘i to work on the sugar plantations. Her grandparents were born on the Wai‘anae Plantation where her Grandpa Muroda worked as a carpenter. Colleen’s paternal great-grandparents sold tofu to the workers and her Grandpa Hanabusa fished and sold his catch on the plantation. Following Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, both of Colleen’s grandfathers were sent to internment camps. Listening to her grandpas’ experiences during World War II, Colleen was inspired at an early age to end discrimination and fight for equality.
She graduated from St. Andrew’s Priory in 1969 and attended the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where she double majored in Economics and Sociology before earning her Master’s in Sociology. She went on to receive her law degree from the William S. Richardson School of Law in 1977. Before entering public service in 1998, Colleen spent over two decades as an attorney, specializing in labor law, environmental preservation and protection, and representing communities who needed a champion to defend against the encroachment of private interests.
In 1998, Colleen was elected to represent the 21st District in the Hawai‘i State Senate. She served as Chair of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Majority Leader. In 2007, her colleagues elected Colleen to serve as President of the Hawai‘i State Senate where she became the first woman to serve as leader of either chamber of the Hawai‘i legislature. Colleen was also the first Asian-American woman to lead either chamber of a state legislature in the United States.
In 2010, Colleen was elected to represent the First Congressional District of Hawai‘i in the U.S. House of Representatives where she served two terms. While a member of the House, she served on the House Armed Services and Natural Resources Committees. In her second term, she was named the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
In 2015, she began service as chair on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), bringing much-needed leadership to the over-budget project. In November 2016, following the untimely loss of her colleague, Congressman Mark Takai, Colleen returned to Washington for the remainder of the 114th Congress and the 115th Congress.
She resides in Nu‘uanu with her husband, John, and dogs, Frannie and Li‘i.