SAIKI, Patricia

SAIKI, Patricia
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
1930–

Biography

Patricia Saiki’s revitalization of the Hawaiian Republican Party propelled her to election as the state’s first GOP Representative since 1959, when it entered the Union. As a Member of Congress, Saiki focused on economic and environmental legislation important to her Honolulu constituency as well as the international Asian community. In 1990 Saiki left the House to campaign for a Senate seat in a race that many political observers believed might signal a shift in the balance of political power in Hawaii. “Before Pat Saiki was elected to Congress, it was hard for us to relate to young people and tell them, ‘It’s great to be a Republican,’” noted a Hawaiian GOP member. “Now we can begin to spin the tale that will make people interested in supporting the Republican Party in Hawaii.”1

Patricia Fukuda was born to Kazuo and Shizue Fukuda on May 28, 1930, in Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. She graduated from Hilo High School in 1948 and received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1952. In 1954 she married Stanley Saiki, an obstetrician, and they had five children: Stanley, Stuart, Sandra, Margaret, and Laura. Patricia Saiki taught history in Hawaii’s public and private schools for 12 years.

Her path to politics began with her work as a union organizer and research assistant to Hawaii senate Republicans. In the mid-1960s, Saiki served as the secretary and then the vice chair of the state Republican Party. She attended the state constitutional convention in 1968, and that year won election to the Hawaii house of representatives, where she served for six years. In 1974 Saiki won election to the state senate, where she served until 1982. In 1982 Saiki left the legislature and made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. She subsequently oversaw a three-fold expansion in party membership and helped the party raise $800,000 during her two-and-a-half-year tenure as party chair. Her hand in reviving the Republican Party in the strongly Democratic state aided President Ronald Reagan’s victory there in the 1984 presidential election (the only previous Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was Richard Nixon in 1972) and the election of Democrat-turned-Republican Frank Fasi as Honolulu mayor.

After spending nearly two decades in state politics, Saiki decided to run for the U.S. House seat vacated in July 1986 by five-term Democrat Cecil Heftel, who left to run for governor. As the state’s population center, the district encompassed Honolulu, its suburbs, and the Pearl Harbor naval base (Hawaii’s only other congressional district included the rest of Oahu and the other islands). Tourism and commercial shipping were the lifeblood for the cosmopolitan population of Caucasians, Asian Americans, and Native Hawaiians, most of whom were registered Democrats. The potential for influence in Washington as well as the war on drugs were the major issues leading up to the September special election to fill the remaining four months of Heftel’s term in the 99th Congress (1985–1987). Liberal Democratic state senator Neil Abercrombie was the early favorite; however, a third candidate, Democrat Mufi Hannemann, a 32-year-old corporate lobbyist and former White House fellow, entered the race, siphoning off a portion of the liberal vote. Saiki certainly benefited from the Democratic intraparty warfare but she was unable to best Abercrombie in the September 20 special election. He prevailed over Saiki by fewer than 1,000 votes, 30 to 29 percent; Hannemann trailed by about 2,200 votes (28 percent). On the same day, Saiki won the Republican primary to run for a full term in the 100th Congress (1987–1989), while Abercrombie and Hannemann battled for the Democratic nomination for the full term. As the two Democrats faced off in the closed primary, several thousand Saiki supporters temporarily registered as Democrats to give Hannemann a narrow win and instantly reduce Abercrombie to lame-duck status in the 99th Congress.2

In the general election for the 100th Congress, Hannemann had history on his side: ever since the state entered the Union in 1959, Hawaii had sent only Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives. But Hannemann also faced several obstacles. First, the acrimony from the primary carried over as Abercrombie withheld his endorsement. More importantly, Saiki’s ancestral roots as a Japanese American—one-third of the voters shared her ethnic background—helped her popularity. Saiki won the general election with 59 percent of the vote, a 33,000-vote advantage; no previous Hawaiian Republican candidate for the U.S. House had ever polled more than 45 percent of the vote.3 She became the first Republican to represent Hawaii in the House since Elizabeth Farrington won election as a Territorial Delegate in 1954 (Republican Hiram Fong served in the U.S. Senate from 1959 to 1977). Two years later, Saiki ran unopposed in the 1988 Republican primary. In the three-way Democratic primary, Mary Bitterman, a former director of the Voice of America, emerged as the convincing winner; however, she spent the bulk of her campaign funds securing the nomination, leaving her little money for the general election. She was not able to dent Saiki’s record, and the incumbent won comfortably with a 55 percent majority.

Throughout her career, Saiki established a fiscally conservative voting record on economic issues, in line with most of her GOP colleagues. She also supported much of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations’ foreign policy programs—voting for aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, funding for the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the death penalty for drug-related murders. Where she parted company with many Republicans was on her moderate stance on touchstone social issues, chief among them reproductive rights. Saiki supported women’s reproductive freedom. “I don’t want to be sexist about this, but anything that involves a woman’s life or career, it’s very personal, very close to us,” Saiki told the New York Times. “We’re the ones who experience it. We’re the ones who have to pay for it.”4

Saiki received seats on the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, and the Select Committee on Aging. Her seat on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, with assignments on its Oceanography and Fisheries Subcommittee, was particularly important to her oceanside constituency. Saiki worked to preserve the islands’ natural beauty and unique resources. She attempted to persuade the Bush administration to suspend military test bombing on the island of Kahoolawe, situated just offshore from Maui. Claimed by U.S. officials in the early 1950s, the island nevertheless retained significant cultural relevance for Native Hawaiians.5 In 1990 she supported an amendment to revise the annual accrual method of accounting for pineapple and banana growers, whose longer growth and production cycles distorted their income statements and exposed them to excess taxation.6 Saiki also advocated a ban on environmentally unsound driftnet fishing in the Pacific, urging the U.S. Secretary of State to call an international convention to discuss the topic.7

In 1987 Representative Saiki signed on to support H.R. 442, a measure with broad bipartisan support that called for monetary reparations and an official apology to the Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. Saiki and 62 other Republicans joined 180 Democrats to approve the legislation later that year. After the measure passed the Senate, Saiki was present when President Reagan signed it into law in 1988. She subsequently pressed Congress to expedite payouts.8

As an Asian American representing a district in the middle of the Pacific, Saiki also was involved with Pacific Rim issues. She served on congressional delegations that visited Tonga for the birthday of the South Pacific island’s monarch and attended the funeral for the Emperor of Japan. In May 1989, several weeks before the Chinese military’s massacre of student protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Saiki introduced a resolution in the House declaring congressional support for democratic rights in the People’s Republic of China. “I have been deeply moved by the determination and idealism of the Chinese students,” she said. “Fighting in a nonviolent way for what one believes to be true has been a cornerstone of many civil rights movements.”9

In April 1990, popular, long-serving Hawaii Senator Spark M. Matsunaga died of cancer. Urged by her friend President Bush, Saiki entered the election to fill the islands’ vacant seat. “Hawaii needs a Senator who can make the people on Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue understand the people on Kamehameha Avenue,” Saiki said while announcing her candidacy.10 Democratic Governor John Waihee III appointed Hawaii Congressman Daniel K. Akaka to serve as interim Senator until the November special election. Akaka’s new position made him the favorite to hold onto the seat in the fall.

Yet Saiki proved a formidable opponent. She won the primary against four other Republican candidates with a strong 92 percent of the vote. In the general election, both candidates supported the key economic issues that many Hawaiians favored: maintaining price supports for cane sugar, promoting increased tourism, and halting target practice on Kahoolawe. Saiki proved a more dynamic candidate than the sedate Akaka. She also had repeatedly proved her ability to draw votes from the Japanese- American community. Moreover, the growing suburban, conservative white population allowed her, in the words of one political strategist, to “cut into the Democratic establishment.”11 Political observers believed Saiki might be among a handful of candidates to help Republicans regain control of the Senate. However, Akaka had the support of the well-entrenched Hawaiian Democratic establishment, and his warm, pleasing personality appealed to voters. Saiki lost to Akaka by a healthy margin of about 33,000 votes, 54 percent to 45 percent.

After Saiki left Congress, President Bush appointed her director of the Small Business Administration, where she served from 1991 to 1993. In 1993 she taught at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. The following year, she became the first woman candidate on a major party ticket for Hawaii governor. Saiki lost a three-way race to Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ben Cayetano.12 Patricia Saiki returned to teaching and lives in Honolulu.

Footnotes

1“Liu: Up & Coming in Republican Politics,” 13 February 1987, Asian Week: 5.

2Politics in America, 1986 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1985): 389.

3Politics in America, 1986: 389.

4Robin Turner, “G.O.P. Women Raise Voices For the Right to an Abortion,” 31 October 1989, New York Times: A1.

5Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 2nd sess. (22 October 1990): 11512.

6Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 2nd sess. (16 May 1990): 1560.

7Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 1st sess. (17 November 1989): 9123.

8“House Roll-Call Votes,” CQ Almanac, 1987, 43rd ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1988): 98-H; Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 1st sess. (4 August 1989): 17145; Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 1st sess. (26 October 1989): 26241.

9Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 1st sess. (23 May 1989): 2057.

10Maralee Schwartz, “Hawaii GOP Rep. Saiki to Run Against Akaka in Senate Race,” 1 June 1990, Washington Post: A12.

11“Republicans Select Woman in Hawaii,” 20 September 1994, New York Times: A19; Robert Reinhold, “Hawaii Race Tests Democratic Hold,” 1 November 1990, New York Times: D22; Robert Reinhold, “Republicans Sense Chance in Hawaii,” 9 May 1990, New York Times: A26.

12“West: Despite Voter Discontent, Governors Win Re–Election in California and Colorado,” 9 November 1994, New York Times: B8.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

College Station, Texas
Papers: Various mentions of Patricia Saiki who served as head of the Small Business Administration under President George H.W. Bush.

University of Hawaii at Manoa Library
Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection, Archives & Manuscripts Department

Honolulu, HI
Papers: ca. 1970-2006, 18.5 linear feet. The papers document Pat Saiki's tenure as a member of the Hawaii State House and the Hawaii State Senate. Papers relating to her work in the U.S. House concern legislation and U.S. Presidents George G.H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Others concern administration, agriculture, East-West Center, environment, foreign relations, Hawaii Credit Union League, Merchant Marine, Pacific Islands and public relations. The papers also contain documents regarding Saiki's appointment and tenure with the Small Business Administration. A finding aid is available in the repository and online.

University of Oklahoma
The Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive, Department of Communication

Norman, OK
Videoreels and Videocassettes: 1990-1994, 52 commercials on 29 videoreels and 2 commercials on 2 videocassettes. The commercials used during Patricia Saiki's campaigns for the 1990 U.S. senatorial and the 1994 gubernatorial elections in Hawaii, Republican Party.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Patricia F. Saiki" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

"Patricia Saiki" in Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress, 1900-2017. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Publishing Office, 2018.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs
  • House Committee - Merchant Marine and Fisheries
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Aging
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