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Politics // Mostly Politics
Dan Boylan

Lt. Col. Takai Targets Washington

Mark Takai hails from Democrat country west of Red Hill – so Democrat that since his election to the state House of Representatives in 1994 he has seldom known opposition.

In 2014, he will.

Last month Takai announced that he would give up his state House seat and run for the 1st District congressional seat being vacated by Colleen Hanabusa.

Three other Democrats already have announced their congressional candidacies. More will follow.

Like many who run against Washington and the Congress’s woeful 12 percent approval rating, Takai decries the city’s “partisan paralysis. My legislative experience has been one of building bridges across the aisle, and that’s what Congress needs now.”

Takai seeks to bolster Social Security, improve the economy, maintain a strong military, develop green energy and foster sustainability: not necessarily an original list of legislative objectives, but one, says Takai, that will allow “opportunities for voters to hope for a better future.”

At age 46, Takai sees himself as part of a political youth movement in Hawaii.

“I want to be a part of the next generation of Hawaii leaders in Congress,” he says.

He certainly was part of a youth movement when he first won state elective office. Takai received his undergraduate degree from UH-Manoa in 1990 and his master’s in public health in 1993. A year later, at age 26, he entered the state Legislature.

Politics was not Takai’s original career choice. Following his graduation from Pearl City High School, he headed for Plebe Summer at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. He didn’t survive it.

“I dreamt about my failure during Plebe Summer; I had nightmares about it,” says Takai. “Something was missing after the Naval Academy. I felt a calling to be in the military.”

Some years later, when a friend mentioned that the Hawaii National Guard had a new position available as a preventive medical officer, Takai answered the call. He describes his National Guard service as “a hobby,” but it’s obviously more than that. It’s been one weekend a month and two weeks once a year going on two decades. It’s taken him to various Mainland states, Singapore, Indonesia and, in 2009, to the Middle East for a six-month deployment. In June he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

While at Camp Basic in Kuwait, Takai had a foxhole conversion of sorts: “I found myself asking why we were fighting this war halfway around the world. I concluded that it was about oil and that we had to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Hawaii imports $9 billion a year, $7 billion of it on fossil fuels, $2 billion on food. Nine billion dollars would fund Hawaii’s Department of Education for a decade.”

In the Legislature, Takai also championed education, chairing at various times both the House Education and Higher Education committees. In 2002, he introduced the Hawaii College Savings Program, which allows families to put away tax-deferred money for their children’s college education. Takai proudly notes that 12-year-old son Matthew was one of the first to participate in the program. Takai and wife Sami have a daughter as well, 10-year-old Kaila. Both attend Aiea area public schools.

Takai cites his role in creating the Hawaii Medal of Honor as one of his proudest legislative accomplishments.

“I did it with the blessings of Sen. Inouye,” says Takai. “There have been 327 recipients – fallen warriors – all of whom were either from Hawaii or served in a unit from Hawaii.”

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