As a public school teacher, Pat Saiki took notice of the lack of independence she and her colleagues had. There were no planning periods, no access to private telephone calls — essentially, no rights.
So she organized the first state Teachers’ Chapter of HGEA, inspired to protect the viability of teachers. It was a display of leadership that had teachers rallying behind Saiki, encouraging her to run for office.
In 1968, she was elected to the state House of Representatives, officially entering the world of politics.
“It’s been a long road since,” she says.
Since last March, she has served as chair of Hawaii Republican Party after David S. Chang was called to active duty.
Republicans, she says, endured a particularly difficult election season. But despite
candidates Duke Aiona and Charles Djou, among others, falling short of victory, Republicans did manage to elect two new constituents to the House. And nationwide, Republicans also gained the majority in Congress. All of this has made the struggling local party hopeful.
“It’s a slow progress, but we’re taking it one step at a time,” says Saiki.
In a state where the Democratic majority has such a strong presence and influence, Saiki worries that many in Hawaii have simply given up. It’s a mindset she also points to as the cause for low voter turnout this past election.
“It’s been difficult because people are comfortable where they are,” she says. “Many of them are accepting the situation as they see it.”
In an effort to gain more supporters, the party has been actively hosting precinct and district meetings to encourage members of the community to voice their concerns.
“We’re trying to build the party from the ground up,” says Saiki.
Her work with Hawaii Republican Party comes after decades of service to Hawaii and the U.S. in various roles as a politician. In a career that has spanned nearly 50 years, she has accomplished much — from writing the state’s Emergency Medical Services law, to assisting in the creation of Hawaii’s law and medical schools, and even working to obtain funds to create the Sex Abuse Treatment Center at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
This year, Saiki, who appeared on MidWeek‘s cover in 1985, will turn 85 years old — though a conversation with her would make you think otherwise. There are, she says, no secrets to her good health. Saiki remains active, playing golf twice a week, attending exercise classes, walking her dog and spending time in her garden.
Still, it seems that work is really what continues to inspire Saiki. “I love what I’m doing because the party is so important to the state, so important to the people,” she says.
“I guess I’m hanging in there because I believe that this state needs a loyal opposition, a viable opposition — and people just cannot sit back and accept things the way they are when they can change it.”
But for now, Saiki is unsure yet whether she will stay on as chair of Hawaii Republican Party.
“I served my time,” she says. “I think it’s time for young people to move up and I’m encouraging that, so we’ll see what happens.”