Rep. Cynthia Henry Thielen '51

Cynthia Henry Thielen '51 has served in the Hawaii State Legislature for 29 years. Currently she is the Ranking Independent Republican serving on the Judiciary; Water, Land, & Hawaiian Affairs; and Energy & Environmental Protection committees in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

How did you become interested in state government?

I left Stanford University after my freshman year to get married, had four children, and returned to college in my 40s to earn my bachelor's degree. Then I attended law school, specializing in environmental law. After successfully suing the State of Hawaii for environmental infractions, I decided to run for State office in 1990 to promote better environmental policies and to support and promote issues that are important to women and families.

What state issues are important to you?

Preserving and protecting Hawaii's environment, and supporting and promoting issues that are important to women and families. My strong advocacy for women's rights and equality spans decades, from my founding of the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Women's Studies Program in the 1970s to today's Me Too Movement, and includes serving as a current member and former so-convenor of the Legislative Women's Caucus.

In regard to environmental protection, I was coined "Hawaii's hemp warrior" by Green Magazine Hawaii in 2016 as I've advocated for Hawaii's use of agricultural hemp and helped educate my colleagues about it for more than 20 years. The first hemp seeds legally planted in U.S. soil since 1957 were planted on Oahu. I continue educating people and championing hemp because Hawaii has a legitimate, legal opportunity to lead the nation in its cultivation, and is the only state that can harvest three crops a year.

What is a challenge you've faced within state government?

For 29 years, I've not only been a Republican legislator in a blue state, but also an independent-thinking Republican, which has always set me apart from lawmakers who are right-wing extremists. Being able to look at issues from different perspectives while also representing my constituents' voices has resulted in my passing some 300 bills into law during my nearly three decades in office. I overcame my unique position in the Legislature by serving with integrity, applying commonsense approached, and building a reputation for working collaboratively with fellow lawmakers from both parties. One of Hawaii's most recent successes occurred in 2018, when a bill that I drafted and introduced became law, requiring labels warning of addicting and overdosing on all prescribed opioids.

How did Marlborough Prepare you for government work?

Marlborough provided me with superior education and as a result, confidence. All of my role models from 8th to 12th grade were female. I never thought that I couldn't do something just "because I was a girl". 

What advice do you have for a current student interested in pursuing work in government or politics? 

Sometime during your adult years, give back to your community, state, or nation by entering public service. Because of your Marlborough education, you are a leader. You can look back on your role models for inspiration and also ahead at the alumnae who've gone before you, then forge your own path. 


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