The Honorable Patricia Saiki

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
“But when you present instances or examples where they are personally involved one way or another then the whole attitude changes. And so in politics, that’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s personal. You know, you can take any issue, but it doesn’t matter unless it affects you in some way or another. And I always took that as a way to reach people. I don’t care whether they’re Republican or Democrat or independent. It takes the issue and the persons involved, and you can make changes if you have a positive way of handling any serious question.”
—The Honorable Patricia Saiki, September 20, 2018

Abstract & Transcript

U.S. Representative from Hawaii (January 3, 1987-January 3, 1991)

Patricia Saiki’s path to Capitol Hill began in Hawaii, where she was born to Japanese-American parents in 1930. While raising five children, she worked as a teacher, union organizer, and state legislator before winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. She was the first Republican and second woman to represent Hawaii in Congress since statehood. In this interview, she discusses her long political career, providing insight into Hawaiian state politics, her legislative strategies as an elected representative at the state and federal level, and the role of women in American politics during the 1970s and 1980s. 

In this oral history, Saiki recalls her family’s experience during World War II, when the federal government forced Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans into internment camps—including her cousin in California. She describes her initial career as a teacher and her efforts to organize a union in her workplace, which she cited as her first step toward running for office. She went on to serve nearly a decade and a half as a member of Hawaii’s state assembly and state senate, where she contributed to the growth of the Hawaiian Republican Party, added equal rights protections to the state constitution, and secured funding for women’s education, health, and safety programs.

Saiki provides a firsthand account of her time on Capitol Hill in the 1980s, including her role in convincing her Republican colleagues to support the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which authorized financial payments to survivors of the federal government’s wartime internment program. She discusses her work to modify regulations on the Hawaiian fishing industry while on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee as well as her travels abroad representing the United States in China, Tonga, and Japan. In addition, she speaks about her tenure as head of the Small Business Administration under President George H. W. Bush after her unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1990. Throughout this interview, Saiki emphasizes the importance of women in politics, demonstrating the ways women Members worked together and added new perspectives to debates that ultimately shaped legislation.

Biography

SAIKI, Patricia, a Representative from Hawaii; born in Hilo, Hawaii, May 28, 1930; graduated from Hilo High School, Hilo, Hawaii, 1948; B.S., University of Hawaii, Manoa, Hawaii, 1952; teacher; business executive; member of the Hawaii state house of representatives, 1968-1974; member of the Hawaii state senate, 1974-1982; unsuccessful candidate for the special election caused by the vacancy of United States Representative Cecil Heftel on September 20, 1986; elected as a Republican to the One Hundredth and to the succeeding Congress (January 3, 1987-January 3, 1991); was not a candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Second Congress in 1990, but was an unsuccessful nominee for the United States Senate; unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Hawaii in 1994.

Read full biography

Audio

Starting Her Political Career

The Honorable Patricia Saiki describes the beginning of her political career in 1968.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Joining the Republican Party

The Honorable Patricia Saiki talks about her decision to join the Republican Party.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Long-Distance Travel as a Member of Congress

The Honorable Patricia Saiki explains her long-distance travel arrangements between Hawaii and Washington, DC.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Visiting China

The Honorable Patricia Saiki discusses her 1973 visit to China as part of a delegation sent by the nonprofit American Women for International Understanding.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Making Politics Personal

The Honorable Patricia Saiki shares her approach to making political connections with her colleagues and constituents.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Women Must Be Prepared

The Honorable Patricia Saiki reflects on expectations for women Members of Congress.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"Compensation for Those Who Were Interned"

The Honorable Patricia Saiki provides a behind-the-scenes account of her efforts to convince her colleagues to support the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Representing the United States Abroad

The Honorable Patricia Saiki describes her 1988 visit to Tonga and other travels abroad representing the United States.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Running for the Senate

The Honorable Patricia Saiki discusses her conversation with President George H. W. Bush about running for a vacant Senate seat in 1990.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Women "Bring a Different Perspective"

The Honorable Patricia Saiki emphasizes the need to have women in elected office.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Leading the Small Business Administration (SBA)

The Honorable Patricia Saiki recalls her decision to become director of the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 1991.

The Honorable Patricia Saiki, U.S. Representative of Hawaii
Interview recorded September 20, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

Representative Patricia Saiki
<i>Representative Patricia Saiki</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_saiki_portrait.xml
Representative Saiki served in Congress from 1987 to 1991.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
In Her Office
<i>In Her Office</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_saiki_atdesk.xml
Representative Saiki photographed in her office in the Longworth House Office Building in 1987.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee
<i>Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_saiki_committeeroom.xml
Representative Saiki (first tier of rostrum, third from left) listened to testimony in a hearing for the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee in 1989.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Meeting on the Hill
<i>Meeting on the Hill</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_saiki_meeting.xml
Representative Saiki photographed holding a meeting in her Longworth office in 1989.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representative Photography Office
Civil Liberties Act of 1988
<i>Civil Liberties Act of 1988</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_saiki_reagan.xml
Congresswoman Patricia Saiki and her congressional colleagues watched as President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which authorized reparations to Japanese Americans. In her oral history she remembers, "[The President's] staff insisted that I be right there next to the President because they knew the history of this. That’s the one thing that I am so proud about, that I had something to do with it and make things at least—not equal, but acceptable under the circumstances. That’s one of the things that I’m very, very proud of."
Image courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library/National Archives and Records Administration