On June 15, 1898, Congress passed, after some resistance from Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed (R-Me.), the Newlands Resolution by a vote of 209-91, which annexed Hawaii. As of April 23, 1900, Hawaii was a territory under this law, but it would have a long road for statehood. Despite having a long history of support for admittance as a state from the Republican Party given the party’s dominance of the territory until 1954, a combination of Southern Democrats and some breakaway conservative Republicans, most notably John Pillion of New York, were opponents. Southern Democrats knew that a state that had a majority of racial minorities would have two senators who would vote for civil rights. However, Democrats were making headway in the territory, Indeed, this is what happened. The first senators elected were Republican Hiram Fong (1906-2004), who had served in the Hawaii House from 1938 to 1954 and been Speaker from 1948 to 1954 and Democrat Oren Long (1889-1965), who had been a popular governor from 1951 to 1953. After winning close victories, the two men took office on August 21, 1959, with Fong prevailing on the coin toss as to who would be the senior senator.
Hiram Fong had had a long history in Hawaii politics and was there for the GOP’s dominance and was one of the numerous Republicans who lost reelection in 1954, the year the state switched party preference. He was originally born into poverty as Yau Leong Fong, but as an adult he excelled in the field of law and changed his first name to “Hiram”. According to Fong himself, he changed his name to “Hiram” because he liked the name, but others have speculated it was out of admiration for Hiram Bingham I, a missionary from New England who came to Hawaii (Nakaso). Despite Fong’s prior loss, he was still a popular enough figure to be elected to the Senate. He was a unique figure in the state: he was of Chinese descent in a state of people of primarily Japanese descent and was the first of Asian descent to be elected to the Senate. As a state legislator, he led the moderate faction of the GOP and his support of a Wagner Act for the state was critical to its passage in 1945, winning him a lot of support from organized labor. Fong continued to be a centrist figure in the GOP as a senator, being strongly supportive of foreign aid and supported several key Great Society programs, including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and Medicare in 1965, the latter which he had voted against thrice previously. Fong was a staunch anti-communist who opposed grain sales to communist nations through the Export-Import Bank and described communism as “the wrong concept of man and the universe” (U.S. House of Representatives). In 1964, he was the first person of Asian descent to receive votes for president from a major party, winning the votes of Hawaii and Alaska’s delegations to the Republican National Convention. Despite that year being a difficult one for Republicans, Fong won reelection and outpaced Barry Goldwater by a whopping 32%. Goldwater’s paltry 21% of the vote contrasted tremendously with the last presidential election, in which Nixon lost the state by only 115 votes. Fong’s survivability can be attributed to his continued close ties with organized labor in Hawaii, but he drew the line at repealing the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act during the Great Society Congress. He gave his backing to both the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, dismantling once and for all the national origins quota system, as well as its attached McGregor Amendment, which placed for the first time a cap on immigration from the Western Hemisphere. Fong strongly supported the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and also often voted against busing in the 1970s. On the lighter side of matters, he was also a subject of a joke told by Senator William B. Spong (D-Va.) about a theoretical piece of legislation on protecting Hong Kong songwriter copyrights proposed by him, Senator Fong, and Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, which would be called the “Long-Fong-Spong Hong-Kong-Song Bill” (Hunter).
A Scandal in Senator Fong’s Office
In 1971, the Justice Department indicted Senator Fong’s longtime legislative assistant, Robert Carson, for allegedly attempting to bribe Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst to intervene in a grand jury investigation (U.S. House of Representatives). Fong stood by his longtime aide, but he was convicted. The senator himself was not implicated, but it was nonetheless some unwelcome tumult in his career.
Fong, Nixon, and Beyond
President Richard Nixon looked with admiration on Fong for his achievements, and said in a 1960 speech, “…remember, all of you, the American dream is not just a dream, it does come true – Hiram Fong’s life proves it, and my life and Pat’s life proves it, too” (Nixon). The two were personal friends and Fong was more supportive of conservative positions while Nixon was president than he had been in the past. His support for Nixon’s approach to the Vietnam War, including the bombing of Cambodia, lost him votes in his 1970 reelection bid, but he survived. In 1976, Fong would have had to face popular Congressman Spark Matsunaga if he was to run for reelection and since his last election was tough, he opted not to run again. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 52%, reflecting his overall centrism. To this day, Fong is the only Republican to have represented Hawaii in the Senate, and one of only three Republicans to have ever represented the state in either House of Congress. He lived a long life, being physically healthy and working up until his nineties, and he was reportedly mentally sharp until his death from kidney failure.
Oren Long was not that notable for his role in the Senate, to be honest. By the time of his election to the Senate, he was 70 years old and didn’t intend to run for reelection. Long had been notable as governor as a staunch advocate for statehood and is notably one of only two non-Asian senators in the state’s history. He was also staunchly liberal in his less than four years in office with his support of JFK’s New Frontier programs, scoring a 5% on the MC-Index. Long’s successor would be the far more notable Dan Inouye, the state’s first representative, who won with over 69% of the vote in the 1962 election and would serve until his death in 2012. Long himself died two years after leaving office of an attack of asthmatic bronchitis.
Fong, Hiram Leong. U.S. House of Representatives.
Hunter, M. (1982, February 11). A Law By Any Other Name. The New York Times.
Nakaso, D. (2004, August 18). Hiram Fong dead at 97. Honolulu Advertiser.
Nixon, R.M. (1960, August 3). Remarks of Vice President Nixon, Kamehameha Shopping Center, Honolulu, HI. The American Presidency Project.
Oren E. Long. Hawaii History.