Hawaii Herald Article on Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga

As I campaign across the State of Hawaii, I have had the opportunity to greet many of the World War II generation, now in their golden years.  I am touched when I hear a senior say, “Good luck” or once in awhile a senior who is American of Japanese Ancestry would say, “Ganbatte” (also means good luck).  I dedicate my politcal career and this race for Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii to them for all the sacrifice they have done to make our lives better. I think of my grandparents and all of those of this generation who have passed away.

I think of one of the leaders of this great generation Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga who I wrote an article about for the Hawaii Herald’s January, 22, 2010 issue.  It was a dream come true for me to be mentored by him.  I will forever cherish his friendship.  Below is my article about him.

Hawaii Herald

Article on Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga

By Representative Jon Riki Karamatsu

Monday, January 11, 2010

Since I was young, I looked up to the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, elected officials of the 1954 Democratic Revolution, and the entire Nisei generation (second generation of Americans of Japanese ancestry) because of the sacrifices they did to make the world better for us.  I had hoped someone from this great generation would guide me in the world of politics as I continued to pursuit my dream of a more peaceful world with social and economic stability.  Thus, my friendship with Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga is a dream come true for me because he was all three, a Nisei, member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and legislator of the 1954 Democratic Revolution.

I met Senator Yoshinaga in January of 2002 while I was working for Senator Carol Fukunaga.  On one of his many visits to Senator Fukunaga, I showed 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, and how I was going to run for state elected office 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.

I was very impressed with Senator Yoshinaga’s life experiences.  He 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 Ways & Means Committee.

What I liked a lot about Senator Yoshinaga was his genuine love for Hawaii and you could feel his sincerity by the amount of positive energy that radiated from him when he talked about issues he felt were important to make Hawaii great.  He played a key role in eliminating the discriminatory laws in Hawaii, ahead of the rest of the United States; creating the Prepaid Health Care program, which resulted in Hawaii having one of the best, if not the best health insurance coverage in the nation; establishing the 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 appropriating funds for numerous capital improvement projects throughout the state. 

I launched my campaign for the State House seat that represents Waipahu in April of 2002.  I had my first fundraiser at Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room.  Senator Yoshinaga and his wife Mieko 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.  As a politician, I must have had thousands of meetings in my office.  Sometimes Senator Yoshinaga would wait in my main office and people would constantly come in and out.  As each person or group entered, I would introduce them to him.  I remember having him sit in a meeting with an advocate.  He would quietly listen, and the advocate would talk, then look at me and look at him, waiting for a reaction.  It was funny to see the advocate’s face.

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, Mr. Fitzgerald, my office manager Baron Gushiken, and I discussed Hawaii’s economic climate of that time, some of the legislation I introduced in the past, and ideas I had 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.  At the end of the meeting, Senator Yoshinaga told me, “This was a good meeting.”  I looked at him and smiled, “Yup, this was a good meeting.”  He looked so happy.  

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 was 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 Jennifer, jokingly said, “Whoa Jon Riki.  You have the audacity to sit right next to Najo.”  Everyone laughed as I smiled, a little embarrassed.  We all got a dark blue “Najo” baseball cap.  Senator Yoshinaga looked extremely happy.

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 honoree Senator Yoshinaga.

Last year on August 10, 2009, 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.  It would be the last time for many of his political friends and protégés to be with him as a big group in the same room.

On 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 I will follow through on the best I can.  In the past, whenever we say goodbye at the State Capitol, Senator Yoshinaga 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 that weekend and was in the hospital.  That afternoon, I got a phone call from Baron Gushiken that Senator Yoshinaga had passed away.  For some reason, his death didn’t sink in as something that really happened.

A couple of days later, I talked to Senator Yoshinaga’s daughter Susan.  She told me that the week before I saw Senator Yoshinaga, he had wanted to visit me but Baron Gushiken who helps him get around the state capitol 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 state capitol later.  After hearing this, I was really touched.  I am so glad I got to see him on December 23, 2009 at my office.  I am sure Baron feels the same way.

In my years knowing Senator Yoshinaga, he never talked about his military experience in World War II with his service in 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.  I learned from his friends that he was one of the first politicians to oppose the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and it took a toll on his family.  Similarly, I opposed our country’s wars in the Middle East region. When I got involved with Peace Day Hawaii, he was pleased.  I believe he liked that I had peace as one of my long term goals for the human race.

Senator Yoshinaga was a visionary in his time as an elected official and when he left public office, he continued to dream for Hawaii.  Coincidentally, a lot of the work he started, I seem to have picked up where he left off.  He was always talking to me about economic development, technology, and Enterprise Honolulu.  Sometime in 2005, I asked him on why he was so interested in economic development?  He replied, “I had to adjust to the times.”  In his twenty years in elected politics, he accomplished a lot to help labor because of the inequity between labor and management that occurred during a good portion of his life.  However, near the end of his career, he began to work on more business and economic issues.  In regards to economic development, Senator Yoshinaga told me, “I didn’t do enough.  By the time I started, it was too late, my twenty years were up.”  His dream for economic development is also my dream, as it is a big part of my platform, especially in areas such as technology, science, renewable energy, film, digital media, and art.  I have helped the technology, renewable energy and film industries through government-backed special purpose revenue bonds and tax incentives that attracts investments.

Senator Yoshinaga worked hard to eliminate many of Hawaii’s discriminatory laws against minorities, women, and labor.  Equal rights are also very important to me.  Last year, in the 2009 Legislative Session, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I passed the civil union bill out of my committee with a unanimous vote that would allow same-sex couples to enter a contract like that of married couples, thus expanding the rights for same-sex couples to be equal to that of heterosexual couples.  This bill passed the entire House but stalled in the Senate.  After the historic vote in my House Judiciary Committee, Senator Yoshinaga visited me at my office and said, “Times are changing.” 

Senator Yoshinaga had the foresight to create the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act that requires employers to provide health insurance to their employees who work twenty hours or more a week for four consecutive weeks.  Employees must minimally maintain a twenty-hour work week to remain eligible.  This law has helped Hawaii to have most of its population covered by health insurance.  With a huge part of our population entering their golden years, we face a growing challenge in addressing long term-care demands.  I want to allocate all food and drug general excise taxes to a long-term care insurance program to protect our disproportionately large aging population.

In one of our many conversations, Senator Yoshinaga laughed about how he inserted language in a bill to create the Commission on the Status of Women, which looks out for interests that are important to women.  Coincidentally, in the 2003 Legislative Session, I helped organize legislators to stop Governor Linda Lingle from eliminating the Commission on the Status of Women.  In my career, I created laws that highly impact women such as including in our sexual assault laws “the use of a substance to subject one to sexual penetration” to address the use of rape drugs, and expanding the definition of “harassment” and “harassment by stalking” to include contact through electronic communications.  I have also supported state funding to organizations that help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Senator Yoshinaga started the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and the Art in Public Places program which designated one percent of the construction costs of new buildings for the acquisition of works of art, either by commission or purchase that has helped support many local artists.  I have also been supportive of the arts, especially in film, expanding incentives to encourage more film production here with flexibility to allow small budget productions to participate in order to support our local filmmakers and businesses within the film industry.

As my mentor, Senator Yoshinaga gave me advice but never directed me on what to do.  I think he really wanted me to come up with my own decisions.  His words of advice or comments were often short and straight to the point.  For example, in the 2005 Legislative Session, there was a bill that would give labor more flexibility in their break time, however, employers felt it would hamper business operations and increase costs, especially for small and boutique businesses.  I was trying to find a balance on that issue.  Senator Yoshinaga simply told me, “Balance is important.”

Senator Yoshinaga’s last policy advice to me was clear.  He told me that it is very important that we grow our own food and produce our own energy.  He is absolutely right.  So much of our money leaves the state because we buy imported food and energy.  If we want to become an economic power or at the least, become more self-sustainable, we have to grow our own food and produce our own energy.  I will continue to support our agriculture and renewable energy industries by protecting our valuable agricultural lands and maintaining incentives for farming and renewable energy production.  Lastly, with his appreciation in my effort for peace, I will do all I can to reduce violence in Hawaii and the world. 

Symbolically, Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga’s death and life was broadcasted in news mediums throughout the State of Hawaii on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2009 and New Year’s Day, January 1, 2010 as if telling us that he will always be with us in the future.  His work on various laws, programs, buildings, and highways will continue to impact us and many more generations to come.  He will live on through his family, friends and protégés who will continue his legacy.  A true politician never dies and never fades away.  When I close my eyes, I can picture Senator Yoshinaga smiling, and in a loud voice, he says, “Make Hawaii the best place in the world!


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2 responses to “Hawaii Herald Article on Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga

  1. RichSchieber

    What an absolutely beautiful tribute to an obviously wonderful man. It’s apparent he meant a lot to you and you to him. Thanks for sharing it.


    • Jon Riki Karamatsu

      Thank you so much. I think of Senator Yoshinaga as I continue my work now solely in business. Most of all, I miss his friendship. As I grow older, I want to help the younger ones like he did for me as a young adult. I wish you the best in all you do. Have a wonderful day!


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