A Tribute to Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga

 Rimi Natsukawa – “Furusato” or My Home Town. 

This song describes the feeling of missing your hometown.  Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga loved Hawaii and her people so much he devoted every waking moment to see that Hawaii is okay.  He also cared about his family and friends.  Even though Senator passed away, I believe he will find a way to return when we need him.  The following are some of the lyrics:

“How are my friends I lost touch with somehow?

When the rain falls or the wind blows, I feel so alone.
I hear it calling me, my country home.
I’ve got this dream and it keeps me away.
When it comes true, I’ll go back there some day.”

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga, honored by the joint House and Senate in their joint legislative session on the House floor honoring state elected officials of 1959 in conjunction with honoring Hawaii's 50th anniversary of statehood on March 18, 2009.

A Tribute to Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga

Thursday, December 31, 2009

It is New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2009.  I am thinking of my friend and mentor Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga who passed away on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 29, 2009.  As I look towards the future, it is hard for me to believe I am without the Senator to talk to about my campaign, issues, or life in general. 

Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga graduated from Maui High School and the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he attained his Bachelor of Arts degree.  He volunteered for the United States Army and served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  After the war, Senator Yoshinaga decided to apply his GI Bill benefits to study law at DePaul University where he attained his Juris Doctorate degree.  He returned to work for the law firm of Bouslog and Symonds in Honolulu, and then in Maui, which was known for its defense of the ILWU or International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Senator Yoshinaga was elected into the House of Representatives of the Territory of Hawaii in the historic 1954 Democratic revolution.  In 1959, he was elected into the Senate of the State of Hawaii where he served until retiring in 1974.  Senator Yoshinaga was the chairman of the influential Senate Labor Committee and the Ways & Means Committee.

Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga played a key role in eliminating the discriminatory laws in Hawaii, ahead of the rest of the United States; creating the Prepaid Health program, which resulted in Hawaii having the best health insurance coverage in the nation; establishing the local art in public places program that supports our local artists; starting the Commission on the Status of Women that advocates on issues important to women; and numerous capital improvement projects to name a few. 

Senator Yoshinaga was close friends with Governor John A. Burns and helped to get him elected as governor in 1962.  He later played a role in getting Governor John Waihee elected as governor in 1986.  He also helped a number of legislators in their careers.  Senator Yoshinaga has mentored a number of great leaders such as state administrator and businessman, the late Pundy Yokouchi, former State Senate President Norman Mizuguchi, State Senator Carol Fukunaga, former State Representative David Hagino, attorney Jim Stone, attorney Kerry Komatsubara, and the list goes on.  These protégés of his have helped to shape Hawaii as well.  I may well be the last and youngest of his protégés with an age range that spans three generations.

Senator Yoshinaga is the greatest politician I know.  He has good policy ideas, analytical thinking, social skills, and political strategy.  Most importantly is his love for Hawaii and you can feel his sincerity by the amount of positive energy that radiates from him when he talks about politics.

I met Senator Yoshinaga when I worked for Senator Carol Fukunaga in January of 2002.  I returned to Hawaii from law school and was ready to launch my state political career.  On one of his many visits to Senator Fukunaga, I showed him a picture of him with his company within the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which I printed from the Internet.  He was surprised and impressed that I researched him.  We quickly became friends.  I told him my political platform and my campaign strategy that I created in 1996, and how I was going to run for the State House in the 2002 elections.  I also found out my grandfather Maurice Karamatsu was friends with him when my grandfather was Vice President of Duty Free Shoppers.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga in May of 2002 while Karamatsu was a staffer for Sen. Carol Fukunaga

I launched my campaign for the State House seat in Waipahu in April of 2002 walking door-to-door, which I would eventually walk the entire district three times or over 18,000 homes by Primary Election Day on September 21, 2002.  I had my first fundraiser at Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room.  Senator Yoshinaga and his wife were the first ones there.  They must have arrived a half an hour early.  I won the election.

As soon as I got into my capitol office, Senator Yoshinaga would visit me regularly.  My office manager at the time Baron Gushiken also became very close to the senator and would be a friend of his until his passing.  After my DUI incident, I resigned as Vice Speaker of the House and lost one full time position, and Baron volunteered to sacrifice his job, but continued on with two other House leadership legislators.  He would continue to bring Senator Yoshinaga to my office often.

As a politician, I must have had thousands of meetings in my office.  Senator would be in my main office and people would constantly come in and out.  As each person or group entered, I would introduce them to Senator Yoshinaga.  I remember having Senator sit in a meeting with an advocate.  He would quietly listen and the advocate would talk and then look at me and then look at him, waiting for a reaction.  It was funny to see the advocate’s face.  Hey, once a politician, always a politician; for a true politician never dies and never fades away, and Senator Yoshinaga was one of them.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga at Karamatsu's state capitol office in February of 2006.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga in February of 2006.

In April of 2006, I was chairing a donation drive for the Sex Abuse Treatment Center at the Hawaii State Capitol.  Senator came by and I took one of my favorite pictures with him.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga at the Hawaii State Capitol in April of 2006.

I have many memories of Senator Yoshinaga, but one of my favorites is when he brought the CEO of Enterprise Honolulu, Mike Fitzgerald, to my office to strategize on ways to strengthen Hawaii’s economy on May 28, 2008.  Senator Yoshinaga, Mike, Baron, and I were together in this meeting bouncing ideas back and forth.  We discussed Hawaii’s economic climate of that time, some of the legislation I introduced in the past, and ideas I have for the future to help better Hawaii’s economy.  We talked about renewable energy, technology, film, digital media, long-term care, workforce development, education, mass transit, and agriculture.  Senator looked so happy.  At the end, Senator Yoshinaga told me, “This was a good meeting.”  I looked at him and smiled, “Yup, this was a good meeting.”

I enjoyed all the birthday parties planned by a handful of us business, community, and political leaders.  His 89th birthday was on August, 8, 2008 or 08/08/08.  I remember him telling me, “People tell me this is really good, to have my birthday on 08/08/08.”  We celebrated his birthday a little belated at his senior living facility’s party room.  Every birthday of his is a who’s who of Hawaii.  Someone told me to sit by Senator Yoshinaga.  Governor John Waihe’e, who I admire and became friends with through his children John and Jen, jokingly said, “Whoa Jon Riki.  You have the audacity to sit right next to Najo.”  Everyone laughed as I smiled, a little embarrassed.  Everyone at the party got a dark blue “Najo” baseball cap.  Senator Yoshinaga looked extremely happy.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga in August of 2008. Karamatsu is wearing the "Najo" hat.

In my years knowing him, he never talked about his experience in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at the European front.  I believe those memories were too painful.  Rather, he found joy in doing positive things for Hawaii through politics.  When I got involved with Peace Day Hawaii, he told me something positive that I can’t remember in detail.  I believe he liked that I had peace as one of my long term goals for the human race.

On March 18, 2009, there was a joint House and Senate legislative session on the House floor honoring state elected officials of 1959 in conjunction with honoring our 50th anniversary of statehood.  Senator Shan Tsutsui of Maui and I made a speech about Senator Yoshinaga.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga on the House floor in honor of state elected officials of 1959 in conjunction with honoring our 50th anniversary of statehood on March 18, 2009.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga on the House floor in honor of state elected officials of 1959 in conjunction with honoring our 50th anniversary of statehood on March 18, 2009.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga on the House floor in honor of state elected officials of 1959 in conjunction with honoring our 50th anniversary of statehood on March 18, 2009.

Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga, and Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu on the House floor in honor of state elected officials of 1959 in conjunction with honoring our 50th anniversary of statehood on March 18, 2009.

This year, we celebrated Senator Yoshinaga’s 90th birthday at the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation, which is fitting since he always talks about how research is important for Hawaii’s future.

Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga and Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu at senator's birthday party at HTDC in August of 2009.

Sen. Nadao "Najo" Yoshinaga and Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu at his birthday at HTDC in August of 2009.

Last Wednesday, December 23, 2009, I had my last talk with Senator Yoshinaga at my capitol office.  My campaign seemed to be on his mind.  He made a suggestion that had also been in my thoughts, and I have avoided it because I am trying to be conservative with our campaign money, but I will follow through on his advice in 2010 the best I can.  In the past, whenever we say goodbye at the State Capitol, Senator would tell me, “I may not see you again,” implying that he could pass away anytime.  However, I don’t recall him saying this at all in the months leading to his passing.

On December 29, 2009, I wore my Najo baseball cap as I did my errands.  I was worried because I knew he had a stroke earlier and was in the hospital.  That afternoon, I got a phone call from Baron that Senator Yoshinaga had passed away.  For some reason, his death didn’t sink in as something that really happened.

Today, December 31, 2009, I talked to Senator Yoshinaga’s daughter.  She told me that the week before I saw Senator Yoshinaga, he had wanted to visit me but Baron’s schedule was busy.  Usually, Senator Yoshinaga doesn’t complain, but this time he told her, “How come?  I want to see Jon Riki Karamatsu.  I can go by myself.”  She told him about the schedule conflict but that he could go to the capitol later.  After hearing this, I was really touched.  I am so glad I got to see him on December 23rd at my office.  I am sure Baron feels the same way.

Senator Yoshinaga stressed to me that we need to grow our own food and produce our own energy.  He mentioned the importance of technology and science.  Also, with his difficult experience with war, I will do all I can to reduce violence in Hawaii and the world.  These are areas I am commited to achieving.  Senator linked me to the past generations and the leaders of today.  I will link his generation and all the generations before him to future generations, even those who are yet to be born. 

It is New Year’s Eve on the brink of 2010 and the future looks exciting, but it will be different without Senator Yoshinaga in my life.  I feel more lonely now, for in this world, especially in politics, there are only a handful of true friends.  I lost my friend Representative Bob Nakasone last December 7, 2008.  Right now, a number of my friends who are also in my political inner circle are facing life threatening health challenges.  We’ve been through the “joy” and “laughter” and the “struggle” and “sadness”.  Losing Senator Yoshinaga is really difficult for me.  My friendship with him is a dream come true because since I was a young man, I looked up to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, members of the 1954 Democratic Revolution, and the entire World War II generation, and he was all three.  I had hoped someone from this great generation would guide me in the world of politics and he has fulfilled my dream.

Note: More pictures to come.

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