ROBERT C. "BOB" OSHIRO / 1925-2008
STAR-BULLETIN / 1978
Gov. George Ariyoshi, right, watches as strategists Bob Oshiro, left, Bob Crowell, Frances Crowell, Joyce Oblow and Ed Hasegawa review information in preparation for a general election.
Dems’ visionary dies
The political strategist helped Govs. Burns, Ariyoshi and Waihee
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STORY SUMMARY »
Robert C. "Bob" Oshiro, a country lawyer, became a kingmaker in Hawaii politics, advised aspiring leaders to develop a vision and engage the voters at the grass roots.
He was the strategist behind the winning campaigns of the first Democrat to be elected governor and the first Japanese-American and native Hawaiian governors.
Oshiro, 83, died Tuesday at Wahiawa General Hospital.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said Oshiro "contributed much to the social, economic and political advances that transformed Hawaii into a more equal and just society."
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Robert C. Oshiro believed a political candidate needs a vision for the future and a well-organized army of passionate volunteers in the field. His skill as a campaign strategist brought Hawaii's first three Democratic governors into office and led to his legendary status in island politics.
"He was not just a person in a campaign; he wanted to bring about a vision," said former Gov. George Ariyoshi. "Bob was interested in issues. He saw the importance of land use, and agriculture was important to him. He felt if we did not have the right land policies, we would lose the ability to achieve our goals.
"He left a bigger legacy than most people understand," said Ariyoshi, whose predecessor in the Governor's Office, the late John A. Burns, and successor, John Waihee, also benefited from Oshiro's political wisdom. Their terms of office spanned from 1962 to 1994.
Oshiro, 83, died Tuesday in Wahiawa General Hospital.
"I had to go into the field ... to find out what the thinking was," Oshiro said in interviews with the University of Hawaii Center for Oral History. He said he talked to individual voters and small groups, and "if you sell them in their heart ... they are messengers. That's how you get the numbers."
UH history professor Dan Boylan said, "He recruited a crew of young people who worked on those campaigns. He had the capacity to excite them, to get them to throw themselves behind the campaign. Bob modernized the Democratic Party, made them understand the public relations of a campaign, the grass roots of it."
Oshiro returned to Hawaii in the mid-1950s with a law degree from Duke University in North Carolina and had trouble finding a job because he was Japanese American. "He said that's when he was determined to get involved in politics," Boylan said.
He said Oshiro joined Burns' 1962 campaign determined to put together a "rainbow ticket," an ethnically diverse Democratic slate with part-Hawaiian William Richardson as lieutenant governor. At the same time, Daniel Inouye was voted into the U.S. Senate seat.
"Bob, together with leaders like Jack Burns, George Ariyoshi, Bill Richardson and Dan Aoki, contributed much to the social, economic and political advantages that transformed Hawaii into a more equal and just society," Inouye said in a news release.
"Bob's greatest contribution to all who knew him was the ability to see beyond the short term," said Rick Tsujimura, whose involvement in the Democratic Party was inspired by Oshiro. "I used to make pilgrimages to his Wahiawa law office when I was making career choices. I went to get his insight."
"He said every campaign has to have a cause," said Tsujimura, an attorney and real estate executive. "He had the ability to inspire people."
State Sen. Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa) said, "His forte was knowing the pulse of the community, and his knowledge of the numbers, where to press the buttons of various political groups. Everybody respected his thoughts about the political process."
Oshiro was elected in the 1960s to terms in the state House but chose not to run in 1970, concentrating instead on the Burns campaign. He served as Democratic Party chairman but never accepted an appointment to a state position. He maintained a one-man law office in his hometown, Wahiawa.
He retired in 2003 as chairman of the board of the Queen Emma Foundation and the Queen's Health Services. He had served on the board of trustees of the foundation since 1987 and the Health Services since 1985, and was a trustee of the Queen's Medical Center from 1976 to 2003.
He is survived by wife Ruth; son Marcus, a state representative; daughters Roberta and Susan; and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.