Chad Blair: Rep. Mark Takai's Papers Show The History Of A Remarkable Public Servant - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

The typed two-page letter is dated July 11, 1983, and it is addressed to President Ronald Reagan, The White House, Washington, D.C.

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“I am a child of a Japanese family whose family line goes back to the mid-1800’s, when my great grand-father came here from Japan to work in the sugar cane fields,” it begins. “It causes me great pity to know that long ago my family worked for the ‘haoles’ (white men), who in turn took this land forcefully and unkindly from the native Hawaiians.”

The letter then laments the “skillful” yet “obnoxious” and “illegal” takeover of the Hawaiian Kingdom. It concludes this way: “Now isn’t it time that we give back to the Hawaiians what they really deserve? THEIR LANDS!!”

The letter is signed — with “aloha” — by K. Mark Takai, Pearl City High School 12th grade student.

The letter is part of the K. Mark Takai Papers, the latest edition to the Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection housed at the University of Hawaii Manoa Hamilton Library. (The K stands for Kyle.)

The papers were donated by Takai’s wife, Sami, and include material from the late congressman’s work in Congress, the Hawaii Legislature, and at UH, where Takai was editor of the student newspaper Ka Leo O Hawaii — now in its 100th year — as well as president of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii.

From the K. Mark Takai Papers, part of the Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection at UH Manoa.
A photo of former President Barack Obama greeting Rep. Mark Takai is included in the K. Mark Takai Papers, part of the Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection at UH Manoa. 

I reviewed some of the papers earlier this month and was struck foremost by how Takai had always seemed so focused on public service. In the current era, when America’s politics seem more polarized than ever and some politicians singularly obsessed with self-aggrandizement, the collection briefly restored my faith in democracy and governance.

Not that Mark Takai was a perfect person. No one is. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the typos in the letter to Reagan, copies of which were addressed to “Senator Inoye” and “Senator Masunaga,” instead of Inouye and Matsunaga.

But the collection — letters, photos, memorabilia — shows a principled and determined young man who at an early age seemed to know where he was going. His death at age 49 in 2016 still fills me with sorrow and loss.

It also reminds me just how dramatically and quickly times can change. The collection, stored chronologically in folders in two boxes plus a third holding photographs, includes a long list of news articles.

School memorabilia. From the K. Mark Takai Papers, part of the Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection at UH Manoa.
Mark Takai’s school memorabilia is included in his official files. Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2022

Consider a Jan. 15, 2015, story from The Hill, the Washington, D.C., newspaper that covers Congress and politics. Titled “Hawaii delegation seeks to restore clout,” it explained how the state’s power in Congress “took a major hit” after the retirement of Sen. Daniel Akaka and the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye.

“In the House, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai — both Iraq war veterans — are set to serve on the influential Armed Services Committee,” the story explained.

The Takai collection is not a sanitized history. It even comes with a content warning: “This collection contains fliers that reflect racist and sexist attitudes.”

The materials dive deeply into two remarkable periods during Takai’s tenure at UH: divulging the names in alleged cases of harassment — this was in 1991 — and the matter of a Native Hawaiian professor who pleased some and upset others when she gave a white philosophy student from the mainland a tutorial on Hawaiian nationalism.

On the latter matter, here’s an excerpt from a letter to then-UH President Albert Simone from the University of Hawaii Women Faculty Caucus:

“We are appalled by your collusion with the Philosophy Department in their charges of racial discrimination against Professor Haunani-Kay Trask, by your attempts to create grounds on which to remove her from her position as Director of Hawaiian Studies, and most recently, by your irresponsible public statements and lack of leadership in regard to the recent posting throughout the campus of two vicious, sexually-offensive flyers inciting violence against women of color.”

Congressman Mark Takai's casket rests in the Capitol Rotunda with left, Congressman Takai's wife Sami Takai with Governor Ige and Senate President Ron Kouchi. 18 aug 2016
Congressman Mark Takai’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda with Takai’s wife, Sami, speaking to Gov. David Ige at left. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

Fast forward to a newsletter from the then-state representative in 1995 that reads as if taken from today. The issues included gambling, taxes and Hawaiian Homelands settlements.

“This legislative session, my first, was extremely challenging,” Takai wrote. “With the state’s slow economic growth, money was the number one issue this year. Our economy is not growing as fast as we would have liked. In these tough times, some real tough decisions had to be made and we’ll be faced with even tougher decisions in the next session.”

The Takai collection also illustrates how a person’s work can continue beyond their time on the planet.

The Oct. 13 press release announcing the papers noted that Takai’s work to compensate military personnel exposed to radioactive debris in the Marshall Islands eventually became the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act. The measure became part of the 117th Congressʻs PACT Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Aug. 10.

The collection is a trove for journalists and scholars and a welcome addition to the Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection, which comprises the papers of Hawaii delegates to Congress from statehood in 1959 to the present. It includes the papers of U.S. Sen. Hiram L. Fong, U.S. Rep. Thomas P. Gill, U.S. Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga and other familiar names.

Read this next:

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

I became friends with Mark when he first got elected back in the 90s to the legislature. Was one of his guests at Opening Day of the legislature one year. He was a great public servant he always wanted to know what the public wanted done. He was also a great guy always joking around, completely no ego. When he ran for Congress he called me and said he needed donations - I told him of course, but if he doesn't win this one keep trying cause it was a crowded field. He told me "I am in this thing to win it or I wouldn't be running!" He was adament. Dang if he didn't indeed win. Only the good die young, he always had time for everyone. We need more people like Mark in this world.

BigDaddy · 11 months ago

Thank you, Chad Blair, for this timely piece. Congressman Takai was a remarkable public servant and also an exceptional swimmer as well. His family still sponsors the K. Mark Takai Swimming & Diving Championships every winter (Hawaii High School Athletic Association). His legacy still lives on. · 11 months ago

I remember a friend making fun of when it seemed like in the media, now it's "K. Mark Takai", not plain old Mark Takai. The good die young!

elsid · 11 months ago

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