The Rev. Bob Nakata, a former state legislator and activist, died Monday at a care home in Honolulu.
Nakata, 80, served in the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1983 to 1986 and in the state Senate from 1999 to 2002. He also served as the pastor at Kahaluu United Methodist Church from 1980 to 1989.
“Bob was a community organizer and he stood for social, economic and environmental justice in a strong and gentle way,” said Mike McCartney, who served with Nakata in the Legislature. “And when the community needed a friend, he was there for the people who could not help themselves.”
McCartney, currently the director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said, “He was an artist and his canvas was the community.”
Among his late in life accomplishments was the passage of what came to be known as the “Bob Nakata Bill.” The 2018 legislative measure directed $200 million into the state’s Rental Housing Trust Fund, put $10 million into the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund and expanded and extended the general excise tax exemption for construction of affordable units.
“We have just about the worst housing and homeless problem in the nation; we have the highest housing costs anywhere,” Nakata told Pacific Business News. “So it was a matter of trying to rally the troops to push for it. Some of the groups I was with were the most persistent and we were constantly at the Capitol in alliance with many other groups.”
At the time Nakata was a leader of the Faith Action for Community Equity group (now Faith Action) and a founder of Housing Now Hawaii.
But Nakata’s advocacy for the homeless was not a recent development, nor was his support for other marginalized groups. Bart Dame, a longtime community activist, posted a remembrance on the Unite Here! Local 5 Facebook page Wednesday:
“I first met Bob in the ’70s during the work in support of the residents of Waiahole and Waikane valleys as they resisted evictions by their landlord, to build luxury housing,” Dame wrote. “The coalition of powerful interests who supported the evictions was matched by a mass public mobilization of the public, that strongly supported the residents.”
Robert Susumu Nakata was born on April 2, 1941, in Wailupe on the family pig farm near where Aina Haina Elementary School is today. He graduated from Castle High School in 1959 and received a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1963 and a master’s in physics in 1965 at the University of Hawaii Manoa.
According to information provided by his family, it was at UH where Nakata became a leader in the Wesley Foundation, the Methodist campus ministry, and was encouraged to consider going into the ministry. He attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City and worked on his master’s in divinity from 1967 to 1972.
His oldest daughter, Michelle Takemoto, said Nakata is survived by her, his wife Jo-anna Nakata, former wife Nola Buffins, daughter Sarah Angelina Penland and grandchildren Alexandra Takemoto and Riley and Liam Penland.
Nakata’s many jobs over the years included serving as director of social services at Kokua Kalihi Valley from 1990 to 2000. He was also the executive director of KEY Project (Kualoa-Heeia Ecumenical Youth Project) and worked there until 1982.
And he was a member of Life of the Land, the Hawaii Community Foundation National Advisory Board and Keep the Country Country.
In a 2017 oral history interview, Nakata told Gary T. Kubota that his Christian faith was central to his value system.
“I saw Jesus as a real revolutionary, and his immediate core of followers as his disciples,” he recalled. “Out of them came the whole idea of ‘from each according to ability to each according to needs.’ That’s where it came from and that’s what they did.”
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