Patricia F. Saiki
Patricia Saiki has served as a Republican Hawaii state legislator, Member of Congress and Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in a public service career that spans six decades. Born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii Island, Pat was one of three girls of second-generation Japanese-American parents, Kazuo and Shizue Fukuda. Her father played a large role in shaping her life – competitive but always conscious of the overriding need to use government service to improve the lot of those whose voices aren’t heard in the corridors of power.
An educator by training, Pat spent 14 years in classrooms in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. It was her experience in Hawaii’s public school system that led her to form the state’s first teachers’ union. That experience was central to her quick rise in state politics, starting with being elected to Hawaii’s first Constitutional Convention in 1968. She went on to serve in the state House and Senate, two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and then in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
Pat married Dr. Stanley Saiki, and they had five children, all of whom attended public schools. Three of the children followed their father into medicine, two as medical doctors and one as a veterinarian. Two of the children work in computers and technology. Dr. Saiki died in 1991. Their oldest child, Dr. Stanley Saiki, Jr., died in 2013.
Pat is 91, and still active in public life. She lives in the family’s long-time home in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Official Biography, U.S. House of Representatives
Patricia Saiki’s revitalization of the Hawaiian Republican Party propelled her to election as the first GOP Representative from the state 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 Hawaii Republican. “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 Hawai‘i at Mānoa 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. “I was always interested in organizing people so that we would have a say…. But I assumed leadership positions because I wanted to move our status ahead, but I didn’t think of it as a political career until I was faced with having to abide by the rules that were installed on me by an entity over which I had no control. So I felt that the only way to do this is change the control.”2 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 work contributed to the revival of the Republican Party in the strongly Democratic state, which led to the victory of Democrat-turned-Republican Frank Fasi in the Honolulu mayoral race and helped President Ronald Reagan win Hawaii in the 1984 presidential election. The only previous Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was Richard M. Nixon in 1972.
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 Landau 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 white, Asian-American, and Native-Hawaiian residents, 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 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.3
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. Saiki was also popular among Japanese-American voters, who made up one-third of the district. 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.4 She became the first Republican to represent Hawaii in the House since Mary Elizabeth Pruett Farrington won election as a Territorial Delegate in 1954 (Republican Hiram Leong Fong served in the U.S. Senate from 1959 to 1977). Two years later, Saiki ran unopposed in the 1988 Republican primary. In the threeway 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.5
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.6 Saiki emphasized that “anything that involves a woman’s life or career, it’s very personal, very close to us…. We’re the ones who experience it. We’re the ones who have to pay for it.”7
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 district. Saiki worked to preserve Hawaii’s natural beauty and unique resources. She persuaded the Bush administration to suspend military test bombing on the island of Kaho‘olawe, situated just offshore from Maui.8 Claimed by U.S. officials in the early 1950s, the island nevertheless retained significant cultural relevance for Native Hawaiians.9 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.10 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.11
Representative Saiki’s extended family had been interned by the U.S. government during World War II.12 In 1987 she 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 incarcerated during the war. 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 recalled that Reagan’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.”13 She subsequently pressed Congress to expedite payouts.14
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.”15
In April 1990, popular, long-serving Hawaii Senator Spark Masayuki 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.16 Democratic Governor John Waihee III appointed Hawaii Congressman Daniel Kahikina 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 Kaho‘olawe. 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.”17 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 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.18 Patricia Saiki returned to teaching and lives in Honolulu.
1“Liu: Up & Coming in Republican Politics,” 13 February 1987, AsianWeek (San Francisco, CA): 5.
2“The Honorable Patricia Saiki Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (20 September 2018): 6. The interview transcript is available online.
3Politics in America, 1986 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1985): 389.
4Politics in America, 1986: 389.
5Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
6“Saiki Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 38–40.
7Robin Turner, “G.O.P. Women Raise Voices For the Right to an Abortion,” 31 October 1989, New York Times: A1.
8“Saiki Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 29–30.
9Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 2nd sess. (22 October 1990): 11512.
10Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 2nd sess. (16 May 1990): 1560.
11Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 1st sess. (17 November 1989): 9123.
12“Saiki Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 18.
13“Saiki Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 19.
14“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.
15Congressional Record, House, 101st Cong., 1st sess. (23 May 1989): 2057.
16Maralee Schwartz, “Hawaii GOP Rep. Saiki to Run Against Akaka in Senate Race,” 1 June 1990, Washington Post: A12.
17“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.
18“West: Despite Voter Discontent, Governors Win Re–Election in California and Colorado,” 9 November 1994, New York Times: B8.
“It was Pat Saiki who encouraged me to seriously consider running for Congress. When I decided to run, I did so inspired by Pat’s record of accomplishments at the state and national levels. Thank you, Pat, for many years of public service, and for being a guiding light for so many women in Hawaii and across our great country.”
- U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Main) Washington, DC
“Kazuo and Shizue Fukuda, Pat Saiki’s hard working parents, laid the foundation for her remarkable life. They always encouraged her to strive to be the best, and were always there to support her, her husband, Dr. Stanley Saiki, and their five children. Those lessons left their mark; their daughter eventually shaped public policy as a state lawmaker in Hawaii, played key roles in Congress approving reparations for Japanese Americans interned in World War II and ended the U.S. Navy’s bombing of Kahoolawe, and counseled presidents of Hawaii’s largest corporations as well as of the United States.”
- Franklin Kometani, DDS, Former Saiki Campaign Chairman, Honolulu Hawaii
“We have a lot to learn from Pat Saiki’s life. It has been full, and she has always done it her way! Never one to mince words and always a force to be reckoned with, Pat was a pioneer in fighting establishments, promoting women’s rights, and championing individual freedom and choice. A committed believer in a two-party system, she knew how to work across the aisle to get stuff done, a rare and precious talent in today’s partisan political world.”
- Dr. Charles Morrison, Former President East-West Center, Honolulu Hawaii
“Pat Saiki paved the way for women like me who wanted to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Her ability to affect positive change through groundbreaking legislation while navigating a tough political environment illustrates her special gift for public service. Pat and I are from different generations so I did not have a chance to serve with her, but because of her many legislative successes and real life example of servant leadership, I was able to be elected as a Republican Mayor of Maui County and Governor of Hawaii in an overwhelmingly Democrat state. I am indebted to her and grateful for all she did for the people of Hawaii.”
- Governer Linda Lingle, Former Two-Term Governor of Hawaii, Honolulu Hawaii
“A Woman in the House” is the story of a true leader, former member of Congress, Pat Saiki, a woman whose leadership has made a difference in the lives of so many -- inspiring small business women and men, helping families and educating children. It is also a book that gives us the secret to true and lasting success and one that should be provided to every young person seeking to find their way in life. Among the many important lessons in the book: Pat Saiki built her career on a foundation of service, and her story provides important insights about how to persevere in the face of great obstacles.”
- Patricia Harrison, President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting