My Farewell to the Hawaii House of Representatives


Representative Jon Riki Karamatsu

Farewell Floor Speech (Jon spoke about half of the speech and inserted the entire speech into the House journal)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mr. Speaker, it has been an honor for me to serve in the Hawaii House of Representatives. My eight years here has been a great experience. I have learned so much and met so many wonderful people. To become a politician is a dream come true for me. In 1996, I set my goals to make Hawaii and the United States a better place, most of which is the foundation of my political platform today. That year, I also created my logistical plan to run for the Hawaii State Legislature in 2002. Leading up to 2002, I served as Vice President of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, participated in community organizations, served on the Pearl City Neighborhood Board, volunteered for political campaigns, and worked for legislators. After I graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a B.A. in political science in 1997, I went to Washington State where I graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2001. I returned back to Hawaii that year and passed the Hawaii State Bar examination and received my law license.

In 2002, I launched my campaign for the Hawaii House of Representatives, District 41, which encompasses Waipahu and its subdivisions of Waipahu Town, Waikele, Village Park, and Royal Kunia. I received no endorsements. One of my opponents was a well-know community leader, and she received most of the union endorsements. Another opponent, an insurance man, got endorsements from the business trades. I had the support of my family and my friends, most of whom were a bunch of twenty-year-old friends. These family and friends are still the core of my campaign today. With only about $13,500, we had a low budget campaign. I walked my district three times. Despite the odds that were against us, we won that race.

I was excited to begin my political career in the Hawaii House of Representatives. Before I met you Mr. Speaker, I had heard about you because of my grandpa Maurice Karamatsu who was really good friends with your father-in-law, Stephen Kotake. I had heard how my grandpa really liked you because you were humble. Even with your college degree in education, you worked as a busboy for a restaurant because you were loyal to the company. As you were my grandpa’s friend, I pledged my loyalty to you. As soon as I met you, everything felt right.

When you asked me what committee I wanted to be in. I responded that I wanted to be in the Economic Development & Business Concerns Committee. You told me, “No. You should be in Tourism & Culture Committee. Your grandpa was in tourism. While at Duty Free, it is your grandpa who helped open the Japan market to Hawaii.” At that time, the chair of the Tourism & Culture Committee was the representative from Hilo (Representative Jerry L. Chang). I stumbled here and there as a freshman, but I soon learned from the representative from Hilo. It was during this time that we divided the tourism marketing contracts by regions of the world instead of one big contract. I found out that my chair had so many friends not only from Hawaii, but all over the world, especially Taiwan and China. He was more than a State Representative, but more like that of a United States Senator. Everybody loved him. I learned not only how to be a chairman of a committee, but the importance of building friendships.

In one of my early meetings as a freshman legislator, I met the executive director of the Commission of the Status of Women, which was at risk of being eliminated by the newly elected governor. At the end of the meeting, I committed to help protect the commission from being dissolved. I organized a letter with the support of the Women’s caucus in the Legislature. The administration later backed off, thus the commission was saved. Because of my stance on issues important to women, I was later invited to speak at the Women’s Caucus press conference. In later years, I introduced bills supported by the caucus. In 2006, I coordinated a donation drive for the Sex Abuse Treatment Center and got actor Daniel Dae Kim to volunteer and the television show “Lost” to donate their pilot show script that was auctioned off for the cause.

In 2003, I introduced a bill to give local filmmakers a discount at state film facilities. The state film office decided to give these discounts administratively, and thus, legislative action was no longer needed. In the second year of my freshman term, I passed a law that required the Department of Agriculture to authenticate Ni’ihau shell leis to empower Hawaii Ni’ihau shell lei makers and protect consumers from fraudulent sales using the Ni’ihau shell branding. I introduced a resolution asking the Department of Accounting and General Services to conduct a study on the cost of maintaining Aloha Stadium versus building a new stadium. They concluded that renovating the stadium was more cost effective than building a new one. Also that year, I took an active role to help pass a bill that helped the airport concessionaires in re-negotiating their leases with the state because they were still suffering from the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

However, I have to admit that I made a freshman mistake when I passed the bill mandating ethics training for state government officials. Everyone, including the governor and her cabinet had to take this course. Some government officials were a little irritated. Looking back, I believe this would be better placed in our House rules. This year I joked with staff from the Ethics Commission that we should repeal the law and put it into House rules. They laughed and quietly agreed because that law forces them to work hard at the beginning of every first year of the biennium. Members, you are welcome to repeal that law.

The 2004 elections were intense. I was targeted by the Republican Party with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor walking door-to-door in my community with their respective entourages. I won re-election to the Hawaii House of Representatives.

In 2005, my biggest legislative idea was on creating a Kindergarten to twelfth grade science and technology magnet school to prepare our children for Hawaii’s knowledge-based economy. Although my bill did not pass, the following year, I was pleased when the governor made innovation in education a priority and we passed a bill that expanded learning in science, technology, engineering, and math for our public schools. That year, as a Finance Committee member, I was assigned to many conference committees. I was approached by the representative from upcountry Maui (Representative Kyle Yamashita) and the former Representative from West Kauai, Bertha Kawakami to help them on bills that would be harmful towards business. I helped both of them to address their concerns but I took a lot of heat from certain chairs. There was also miscommunication with a senator on another conference. I got yelled at by all three chairs and heard the finance chair of that time was upset. I went to Representative Bob Nakasone’s office where I hung out often. I went out to the balcony and expressed my frustration. Mr. Speaker, you and Senate President “Bobby” Bunda were sitting on lawn chairs in the dark further down. You told me to come by where you were and I sat by you on the concrete. Not too long later, Representative Bob Nakasone came out of his office and sat by me to the right. With all the pressure, I broke down crying explaining that I was just trying to find balance on bills for our dear friends Representative Bertha Kawakami and the representative from upcountry Maui. Your words of advice and Representative Nakasone’s presence brought me comfort.

Mr. Speaker time and time again, you have helped me in some of my toughest challenges. I remember in 2004, with the support of my closest colleagues, we voted against the majority on a bill that would have negatively impacted research on state land. You told me, “The State probably didn’t know what happened tonight, but tonight when you go home, you will see how peaceful it is.”

After the 2005 Legislative Session, Representative Ken Hiraki decided to leave the House of Representatives to take a position with Hawaiian Telcom, thus leaving his chairmanship of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee open. Mr. Speaker, with your appointment of the Representative from Puna (Representative Bob Herkes) to that chairmanship, that left his former post, the chairmanship of the Economic Development & Business Concerns Committee vacant. I was extremely honored when you gave that position to me. It was a dream committee because I love that subject matter and it is one of my biggest goals to make Hawaii an economic power per capita.

In 2006, as Chair of the Economic Development & Business Concerns Committee, I went full blast ahead. I introduced a bill to give tax credits for film production in Hawaii, 15% on Oahu, and 20% on neighbor islands to make Hawaii competitive in the world to attract film projects, especially the huge Hollywood blockbuster movies. Together with the Representative from Hilo (Representative Jerry L. Chang), who was still Chair of the Tourism & Culture Committee, and the Senator from Makiki, my friend and former boss (Senator Carol Fukunaga), we passed the companion bill into law. That legislative session, I also passed a bill that expanded the Small Business Innovation Research Grants (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research Grants (STTR) to maximize federal matching dollars to help Hawaii’s start-up technology businesses. I also passed a bill floating $10 million in special purpose revenue bonds for Hoku Scientific, Inc., a local technology and renewable energy company to help build their facility in Kapolei. Further, I had a bill that included in the sexual assault law, “the use of a substance in subjecting one to a sexual assault” to address the problems of date rape drugs. My bill was incorporated into an omnibus criminal bill that was passed into law.

That year, as a result of a request by a number of neighbor island representatives, Mr. Speaker, you asked me to help save the County of Hawaii from a looming lawsuit regarding the Hokulia development on marginal agricultural land. There was a land use bill in my committee carried over from the previous year. I placed an amendment inserting language that would grandfather the Hokulia development, thus protecting that project from the suit. Not too long later, the lawsuit was settled.

Mr. Speaker, you came up with the $100 million innovation fund bill, one of the biggest bills of 2006. This fund was to be used for investments and grants for Hawaii science and technology companies. You told me to go with it. Returns in investment would go back into the fund, and I tweaked the bill so that it would always have a corpus to collect interest to help replenish the fund. During conference, a little before midnight, the deadline for all conference bills, you called me to go to conference room 309. I was in my office enjoying the evening with my friends. I told everyone, I had to go. It was show time. My staff and a number of my friends followed me out of the office with a good friend of mine filming with a video camera. We joined my co-chair from the Finance Committee, the Representative from upcountry Maui (Representative Kyle Yamashita). Our entourage entered room 309, which was extremely packed with so many people overflowing outside up to the railings. For new members, there was much more people than what you have seen in the past couple of years. Our counterpart was then Ways & Means Chair, the Senator from Manoa (Senator Brian Taniguchi) and his co-chair was the Senator from Makiki (Senator Carol Fukunaga). I threw over the House proposal. Later, the senator threw over a different proposal. I looked at the senate’s proposal, and then looked at my friend, the Representative from Upcountry Maui. We had that look, like what is this? I called a recess. My co-chair and I exited the back door. We talked a little in the hallway with little time before the midnight deadline. I said, “Let’s talk to Pono,” whose office was only feet away. After all, he was a former Ways and Means staffer and just plain brilliant. When we entered his office, the Representative from Enchanted Lake and Maunawili (Representative Pono Chong) was sitting on the carpet of his office fixing or doing something. We looked at him on the ground. He looked up at us with that surprised look, like what in the world are you guys doing here? I told him that we’re in conference. I think he replied sarcastically like, “Uh yeah.” I told him you need to look at this CD1 and calculate the numbers as quick as you can. In what seemed like seconds, the representative from Maunawili, Kaneohe explained that the numbers were smaller than what was agreed by Speaker and Senate President. I grabbed the CD1 and together with the Representative from Upcountry Maui, we went back into the conference room. The Ways and Means Chair asked us to agree to his proposal. In front of the crowd trying to listen what we were saying, I told him, “No, we are sticking to the House position.” Time was ticking; apparently this bill was tied to the streamline use and sales tax bill. With only minutes left on the clock, the Ways and Means chair, a little disturbed, agreed to go with the House’s position. We passed the Innovation Fund as well as the streamline sales and use tax bill. On final reading, the House killed the streamline sales and use tax bill. In revenge, the Senate killed our innovation fund bill. Usually when the Senate finished earlier, which is always the case, they would come to the House, and we would recess so we could shake their hands. However, this time, when the Senate came over they couldn’t get in because Mr. Speaker, you had sergeant-at-arms lock all the House doors. I had heard that some of the senators were knocking on the door. Mr. Speaker, I am still not sure if you were upset because our innovation fund bill died or if there were problems with some other bill? Anyways, looking back, it was a little funny.

Mr. Speaker, at the 2006 Democratic Party of Hawaii Convention, I presented you my typed-out strategy to run for statewide office in 2010. The only other elected official I shared this plan with was Representative Bob Nakasone. On the Saturday of that convention you hosted a number of our colleagues to a dinner at a Chinese Restaurant. We returned back to the convention to socialize the convention delegates. My friend Wayne Yagi was my driver that night. As we were leaving, I realized I didn’t have the strategy with me. I told Wayne that I forgot something important. He told me that I could look for it tomorrow. I panicked, “You don’t understand, if someone finds my papers, they will know my whole political strategy for the 2010 elections.” My strategy was detailed on everything I had to do, month by month. The next morning I went to the convention really tired. Mr. Speaker, you and Senate President Bunda was chairing the convention at the time. You called a recess, walked down the stage and down the long aisle. You walked right up to me and pulled some papers from your back pocket and told me, “You forgot something.” It was my strategy for my statewide 2010 campaign.

For 2007, Mr. Speaker you asked me to be your Vice Speaker of the House. After much thought, I took your offer and joined your leadership team. That year, I passed a bill floating $10 million in special purpose revenue bonds for Sopogy, Inc. to develop a solar farm at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii in Kona, Hawaii. This project is currently under construction. My memorable bill was working with the Hongwanji’s Young Buddhist Association in passing a law recognizing September 21 of each year as Peace Day to promote peace programs, improve international relations, and increase educational awareness of peace. I have chaired the Peace Day Hawaii event for the past three years.

On October 16, 2007, I crashed my car, called the police, and was charged with DUI. As a result, I stepped down as Vice Speaker of the House. However, Mr. Speaker, you gave me the opportunity to be Vice Chairman under the Representative of Haiku Valley and Kaneohe, the Chairman of the Water, Land, and Ocean Resources, & Hawaiian Affairs Committee (Representative Ken Ito) who I would eventually declare as the founder of Itoism because of his deep philosophical thought. As his disciple, I was ready to take on a new realm of laws.

In 2008, the Representative from Kaneohe (Representative Ken Ito) and I drew our swords and charged. Together with the other Representative from Hilo (Representative Clift Tsuji), the fighter of Coqui frogs, we passed a monumental bill that created incentives for the important agricultural lands classification, a 1978 constitutional mandate that had been unresolved for thirty years.

We charged into another battle to resolve another 30-year issue in regards to the 1978 constitutional mandate of funding 20% of ceded lands revenues to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs had been suing the State of Hawaii for years saying they are not receiving their share of funds. We moved a bill requiring the State to convey certain lands and make additional payments to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; however, the Senate did not move on it when it reached them. Nonetheless, it was a good attempt to resolve the dispute.

Further, in 2008, I passed a bill that required the government to better maintain records to prevent identity theft as was requested by the Identity Theft Task Force that I sat on for two years with the Senator from Makiki (Senator Carol Fukunaga). In addition, I passed a law prohibiting a towing company from charging the owner of a vehicle hooked up for towing if the owner of the vehicle appears on the scene. Further, I helped Sopogy, Inc. again by passing a bill floating $35 million in special purpose revenue bonds to help it with the development of a solar farm on Oahu. Lastly, I was able to get a $1 million appropriation inserted into the budget bill for beach restoration in resort areas that matches private funds.

In the 2008 elections, I was at a low. I had a talk with Representative Bob Nakasone in his office. As usual, he asked, “So how’s everything?” I told him everything was okay. He told me, “Don’t forget your dream.” I looked at him and said, “Rep. Nakasone, I don’t know. I can’t see past tomorrow.” He stated again, “Jon, don’t forget your dream.” I looked up to him, smiled, and nodded. Those were the last words he told me. He was hardly in his office and I was campaigning like crazy, so we didn’t get a chance to talk to each other again. Representative Nakasone passed away on December 7, 2008.

My opponents attacked me on everything including my DUI. With the help of Calvin Azama, policy adviser of Speaker (Calvin K.Y. Say), who walked my district with me three times, I won the primary election and in the general election, I had the most votes in my career.

Mr. Speaker, I entered 2009, honored to be your new Judiciary Committee Chairman. After going through some tough challenges, I was back a thousand times stronger. I introduced a package of bills to help retain doctors and lower medical liability insurance. I drafted the health information technology bill in hopes to bring all parties together to prepare Hawaii for $10 to $1 federal matching funds available in 2011 that will interconnect the computer networks of all of Hawaii’s health providers. I created a bill that would protect our prime agricultural lands. In my goal to protect our public from harm, I passed legislation that created the criminal impersonation law and updated our harassment and stalking laws to include electronic communication. I also passed legislation protecting our pet animals by allowing a temporary restraining order be extended to pet animals and ensuring our pet animals are humanely treated when placed in confinement. Further, I changed the joint and several liability tort laws to help our small professional design companies.

Moreover, I enjoyed working with the Representative from Wahiawa, Chairman of the Finance Committee (Representative Marcus Oshiro) to ensure there was enough funding for the Judiciary Branch despite the bad economy.

This year, 2010, I continued serving as your Judiciary Committee Chairman. With the economy continuing to be in bad shape, I searched for any cost savings for the State in the Judiciary budget besides cutting costs to programs and positions. I focused on ensuring there is enough funding for our specialty courts, which has been proven successful in turning individuals’ lives around to be productive citizens rather than abusing illegal drugs or committing crimes, which not only betters our society but saves the state a lot of money.

I also worked to pass the campaign finance bill that reorganizes the existing campaign finance provisions in the campaign finance laws, by dividing long sections into shorter sections with clear titles for quick reference and grouping laws on one subject together, among other things, and with a few substantive changes such as an inclusion of a new section to provide for transparency and to indicate that the campaign finance laws should be construed to support transparency.

I passed a bill authorizing certified shorthand reporters to administer oaths and affirmations in the performance of their duties as deposition officers without the necessity of being public notaries, which will help make the process faster for this important service in our legal system.

Another measure I passed revised laws prohibiting the cruel treatment of pet animals by specifying the standards of care that an owner must provide a pet animal, including the type of pet enclosure and under what conditions and when veterinary care must be provided but without affecting animals that are raised for food.

In my term as Judiciary Committee Chairman, there were a number of issues that I worked on that did not pass but went very far in the Legislature, some on the brink of passage. Although such legislation may not have passed, it stirred discussion throughout the State of Hawaii. After all, the Legislature is where important issues get an opportunity to at least be discussed.

My career in the Hawaii House of Representatives has been a good one. I thank the people of Waipahu for giving me the honor to represent them.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for all your love and support. You have been a great mentor for me. I want to thank my other mentors, the Representative from Hilo and our Higher Education Chair (Representative Jerry L. Chang) and the late Representative Bob Nakasone. I have sincere appreciation for my dear friends who provided support for me, the Representative from Kaneohe (Representative Ken Ito) who I shared many humorous conversations, the other Representative from Hilo (Representative Clift Tsuji) who I had many wonderful conversations, and the Representative from West Kauai (Representative Roland Sagum) who I enjoyed hanging out with, which helped me to relieve some of the stress I was going through. I sincerely appreciate all of your unconditional friendship.

Thank you to the Vice Speaker (Representative Michael Magaoay), Majority Leader (Representative Blake Oshiro), Majority Floor Leader (Representative Cindy Evans), and Finance Chairman (Representative Marcus Oshiro) for supporting the Speaker and for your open leadership in this institution.

I also want to say, “mahalo” to the other Representative from Kaneohe, our Majority Whip (Representative Pono Chong) and his partner in crime, the Representative from upcountry Maui (Representative Kyle Yamashita) for all our healthy policy discussions; Representative from Kalihi Valley who made me laugh as we talked about our experiences in politics, especially our experiences with the media; the Representative from Ewa Beach and lower Waipahu (Representative Rida Cabanilla) who has been very loyal to me; Representative from Pearl City-Aiea (Representative K. Mark Takai) who I learned the logistics of campaigning and managing an office; and the rest of the majority caucus, past and present, for and all the great memories.

I also want to thank the minority caucus. I passed some of your bills too. I appreciate you bringing some balance in the Legislature.

I want to send my thanks to several more mentors, Senator Carol Fukunanga for sharing her experience and network with me, the late State Senator Nadao “Najo” Yoshinaga who paved the way for me, and the late Eric Maehara, a great attorney and friend.

I am grateful for all my staff throughout my legislative career. I also want to thank every person I have worked with in my political career.

I want to especially thank my Dad, Richard Karamatsu, mom, Laraine Karamatsu, younger sister Mia karamatsu, and baby sister Lara Karamatsu for all their love and support. Thank you to my extended family and friends as well for all their love and support. I also send my appreciation to all my loved ones who passed away and all my ancestors. Finally, I appreciate every person who has touched my life.

Mr. Speaker, after we die, some of our names will fade and some of our stories will be forgotten. However, as politicians who truly love to serve, we will never die. We live on in the laws we pass, the programs we fund, and the infrastructure we appropriate. Most importantly, we live on in the souls we’ve touched.

Thank you.

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