The Honorable Patricia Saiki
“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
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.
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.
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Starting Her Political Career
The Honorable Patricia Saiki describes the beginning of her political career in 1968.
Joining the Republican Party
The Honorable Patricia Saiki talks about her decision to join the Republican Party.
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 discusses her 1973 visit to China as part of a delegation sent by the nonprofit American Women for International Understanding.
Making Politics Personal
The Honorable Patricia Saiki shares her approach to making political connections with her colleagues and constituents.
Women Must Be Prepared
The Honorable Patricia Saiki reflects on expectations for women Members of Congress.
"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.
Representing the United States Abroad
The Honorable Patricia Saiki describes her 1988 visit to Tonga and other travels abroad representing the United States.
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.
Women "Bring a Different Perspective"
The Honorable Patricia Saiki emphasizes the need to have women in elected office.
Leading the Small Business Administration (SBA)
The Honorable Patricia Saiki recalls her decision to become director of the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 1991.