Posted by Joan Hanna on September 21, 2016 in Blog
Hawaii State Representative Mark Hashem is the son of a Lebanese father and a Japanese mother. His story is as unique as it is interesting.
Hashem’s grandfather had been studying to become a priest in Beirut. Prompted by his four brothers to come with them to the United States, however, Hashem’s grandfather left his studies for America. Arriving in Boston during the turn of the century he settled there and raised a family of seven children. The youngest of those children was Hashem’s father, John, who joined the military during World War II and was stationed in Japan, where he met Hashem’s mother. Three years after Mark Hashem was born in Japan, the Army moved the family to Hawaii.
Hashem spent his childhood growing up near Honolulu. He graduated from McKinley High School and attended Pacific University in Oregon. After Hashem earned his graduate degree from Hokkaido University in Japan, he merged two areas of interest, education and business, to start an English school for Japanese children at the age of 25. Hashem struggled to make ends meet, but eventually managed to increase enrollment from 10 students in the first year, to 2,000 students just 10 years later. Later he started a billiards supply company in Japan and was very successful, utilizing the then up-and-coming internet to sell pool cues.
Once back in Hawaii, Hashem was introduced to the Hawaii state legislature by a friend who invited him to apply for a job there. At first, he worked part time and then took a full time position as a committee clerk. He relished his time at the state legislature: “I was always interested in policy and how things were done. When you talk to policymakers, the policy decisions do make a lot of sense. There’s a lot more to these decisions than what meets the eye.” This experience inspired him to run for office. In 2010, Hashem, a Democrat, ran for Hawaii’s District 18 State House seat and won by 463 votes. Two years later, he beat his opponent by 2,606 votes and in 2014, Hashem won by 3,411 votes. He attributes his success to hard work: “Do your job. Listen to your constituents. I knocked on about 8,000 doors during my last election. If you do that and keep at it, it’s hard for someone else to come in and change voters’ minds.” Maintaining personal connections is obviously key to Hashem. He is still in touch with some of his English-language students. A few have even come to visit him in Hawaii and help out on his campaigns.
Hashem finds a great deal of meaning in the work he does. “The best thing about the job is that you can make real change. You have the potential to make huge impacts for people. When one of my constituents comes to me with a problem, I really enjoy working through the issue and finding a solution.” During this legislative session, Hashem serves on six committee assignments: Consumer Protection and Commerce, Health, Human Services, and Judiciary. Additionally, he is the Chair for the Housing Committee. When asked about his plans for the future, Hashem said he would not rule out a shot on the national political stage: “If the stars align to participate on the national level, perhaps I would consider it. The best way to get promoted is to excel at your job. I’m putting all of my energy into doing a good job and working hard for my constituents.” This year, Hashem is running for reelection unopposed, and he continues to go door to door.