Political mastermind Yoshinaga cheers Obama's health care plan


POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

QUESTION: With all the talk about national health care, whatever happened to Nadao Yoshinaga? Wasn't he the one who pushed Hawaii's health care plans through the state Legislature?

ANSWER: Called a “;cultural icon”; and one of the state Legislature's “;most skilled bac-kroom operators,”; former Sen. Nadao “;Najo”; Yoshinaga steered health care and environmental protection legislation into law during his 20 years as a legislator.

He still visits the state Capitol once a week, although he retired from the Senate in 1974.

Yoshinaga is best known for the work done in 1967 to push a series of studies on temporary disability insurance and a universal employer-based health care system.

The studies formed the basis for the 1974 Prepaid Health Care.

“;The act was largely the product of Nadao Yoshinaga, a powerful state senator from Oahu and a primary spokesperson for a Hawaiian style of social welfare liberalism,”; said University of Hawaii political scientist Deane Neubauer in a study of Hawaii health care.

Today, Yoshinaga is cheering the efforts by President Barack Obama to push legislation for a national health care plan.

“;Now is the time that we have come the closest to convincing the American people we should have a stronger plan,”; Yoshinaga says.

Yoshinaga, who helped bring labor, especially the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, to support former Gov. John Waihee in his first gubernatorial election, had been an ally of Hawaii's first Democratic governor, John Burns.

Burns, Yoshinaga says, still rates as Hawaii's best governor.

“;We should continue the idea that no matter how small a state or how poor or far away, we can still be the greatest place to work and live and retire and visit,”; Yoshinaga says.

Yoshinaga's daughter, Susan, says her father, who celebrated his 90th birthday in August, is “;doing quite well.”;

“;He keeps a full schedule, exercises daily and goes to the Capitol. He will always be very interested in politics,”; she said.

Harold Masumoto, who worked for Yoshinaga while the former labor lawyer was in the Legislature, says Yoshinaga was one of Hawaii's liberal leaders.

“;He was a thinker and visionary. He never got full credit because he was the guy behind the scenes, but he was the one who pushed the new Hawaii,”; Masumoto said.