Lee Cataluna: Hawaii's Next First Lady Brings Career Experience And Life Lessons To The Role - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Hawaii’s new first lady has an impressive resume and a backstory that would make a compelling memoir, but there is nothing pretentious about her. She comes off as warm, sincere and “down-to-earth,” the term she uses to describe herself.

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Jaime Kanani Ushiroda Green is mixed-race (Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, White) and an Ivy League-educated, UH Richardson Law school graduate. She has an undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University, studied Latin, Japanese and French, focused on family law as an attorney, and loved policy work in children’s advocacy.

When she talks about her accomplishments, she talks about all the people who helped her along the way.

“I really appreciate that it takes a village,” Green said. “That’s the story of my life.”

She grew up in Kaneohe, the little sister to two much older brothers. She was 9 years old when her mother died of stomach cancer in 1987. She remembers that it was only about a year between the diagnosis and the end of her mother’s life.

“My mom kept saying she didn’t feel right, but the doctor said it was an ulcer,” she said. Her mom tried chemotherapy, but when there were no other treatment options, came home to die. Green still gets tears in her eyes talking about losing her mom. “She was the kindest, nicest person,” she said. “The kind of mom who would get up early to cook her famous chicken for a potluck. That kind of mom.”

Through her mother’s illness, she said, “My dad was really good. He was totally there the whole time.”

But after her mother’s death, her father broke down. He left the family, and Green went to live with her mother’s sister, a single woman who earned a modest living as a telephone operator at Hawaiian Tel.

She won admission to Iolani School, her father’s alma mater, in seventh grade, but her aunt couldn’t cover the tuition. Her father’s former classmates heard about her situation and got together to raise the money to keep her in school. “I think they did a fundraiser golf tournament for me,” she said. “They really took me on as a project.”

In high school, Iolani awarded her a Stone Scholarship, a full-tuition package for students with strong academic achievement and substantial financial need.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green is surrounded by family after winning by far the most votes in the Democratic primary for governor Saturday.
Jaime Green, left, has supported her husband, Gov.-elect Josh Green, throughout his political career. She plans to put her experience in children’s issues and advocacy to work in her new role as first lady. Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2022

With this support, she excelled in school, taking Latin Honors and Japanese language and becoming a National Merit Scholar. She graduated from Iolani in 1995 and went on to Brown University in Rhode Island. Scholarships carried her through to graduation in ’99. She then returned to Hawaii to attend the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She graduated in ’02 and passed the bar exam on her first try.

“I had to decide, ‘What am I going to use my law degree for?’” Green recalled. She didn’t feel drawn to criminal defense or prosecution, and didn’t want to use her degree to pore over contracts. The one area of law that called to her was child advocacy. “No matter what, I knew I could always defend the rights of children,” she said.

She worked at a nonprofit called Project Visitation, which helps siblings placed in different foster homes stay connected to each other. She clerked for state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, who was chair of the Human Services committee, doing policy work for children and families. It was at the State Capitol in 2005 when she met Josh Green, who was elected governor on Tuesday. At the time, he was serving in the state House of Representatives.

They married in 2006 and daughter Maia was born in 2007. Their son Sam was born four years later. She stopped working after the first baby and focused on being a mom and a partner to her husband’s projects and ambitions. She also has served on the boards of nonprofit human services agencies like Pacific Gateway Center and Hale Kipa.

She isn’t barreling into the role of Hawaii’s First Lady with a big pre-determined to-do list. She’s more deliberate and observant than that. She talks about growing into the role and figuring out how to best use her skills and education to serve.

When Jaime Green talks about her accomplishments, she talks about all the people who helped her along the way. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

“We can make the role of first lady into how we want it to be, in the same way that Josh was LG. Everybody used to ask, ‘What does the lieutenant governor even do?’ He turned it on its head and made it what he wanted it to be. He wasn’t going to stand and wait for the governor to give him a project,” Green said.

“As people get to know us, they’ll know that Josh wouldn’t have a pet project for me. Whatever policy issue I’m interested in, he’ll tell me, ‘Have at it.’… He really does value me as a partner. I’m the one he bounces ideas off.”

She intends to be an active, involved first lady. She hopes to open Washington Place to more events and put her experience in children’s issues and advocacy to work. She’s eager to figure out the role and shape it to suit her strengths. The cocktail party socialization and “show face” nature of the campaign has been draining. She says she hasn’t been home to cook dinner in months.

That may not change now that the campaign is over, but she’s hopeful it will ease up a bit. She describes herself as more of an introvert, though she enjoys meeting people and hearing about their lives. “One-on-one, I can relate to people. I’m not good at superficial talk at all. When I go to an event, I think, ‘Who do I know in this crowded space?’ I’ve had to not be in my comfort zone during the campaign because people want to talk to me.”

Josh Green is Jewish. Jaime Green was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their children were baptized in the LDS temple but went to a Jewish preschool. The family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas.

“The blending of religion and culture, and being a family with school-age kids – – as a family, I think we represent a lot of what Hawaii is today,” she says.


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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


Latest Comments (0)

Please forgive me if I sound apish...voters vote for the candidate, not the spouse.What then empowers the spouse to be "active and involved"?Will she be using state resources to further her agenda? Will that be setting herself up to succeed with those efforts like so many others who self aggrandize?The new first lady does sound quite compassionate which I appreciate, but what if the spouse was anti-abortion or pro corporate (aren't all the politicians?) and used the relationship to further the cause?Of course every spouse is part of every politicians life, but when the spouse acts like they were elected and use their new clout to build resources for their cause, I see it as a slippery slope leading to inevitable theft of public resources under the banner of "public good".

FreeHawaii · 1 week ago

Didnʻt know about her impressive background/Education. She would be a good Governor. Mahalo for this article Aloha Nui, Kupunaleilani

Tutulei · 2 weeks ago

What a resilient, well-educated and compassionate woman; such a fantastic story!!!

Zoolander · 2 weeks ago

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