Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, January 13, 2002

Politician watchdog
stays on the trail

One of the truths of local politics is that if you wait long enough most people will forget about it. Voters may not forget about you, but they will forget what you did.

In the spirit of island living, we eventually blur everything with rose-colored glasses and recall past scandal as the work of someone who was "just a rascal."

In part, our memory is helped out by local officials and regulators who appear to lose interest in a case as soon as the news media's attention-deficit nose for news picks up a new scent.

So the case of Robert Watada, Campaign Spending Commission executive director, and his dogged determination to investigate politicians and how they raise their money is the exception.

You might ask former Mayor Frank Fasi or gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle about what it is like to have Watada on your tail. Lingle found that Watada's strict enforcement of the campaign spending law meant her infractions were sent to the Prosecutor's Office four years ago at the judicial speed of light, although the prosecutor found no criminal intent and the charges ended there.

Watada kept on Fasi's use of an office at the Chinese Cultural Center through two campaign cycles.

Now he is looking at Jeremy Harris' campaign and how he has raised money.

If there are politicians in Hawaii who doubt that Watada is the definition of the word persistence, let me tell you how Bob Watada's family came to America.

When Watada's father was 4, the grandfather, a gambler and an alcoholic, abandoned him and left Japan for the United States.

As he grew up, Watada's father, Matajiro, decided to look for his father. In 1913, at the age of 16, Matajiro worked his way across the Pacific, landing in San Francisco, armed only with the knowledge that his father was in some place called Colorado near a mountain that looked like Mount Fuji (perhaps Pike's Peak).

Matajiro walked to Colorado, found his father and when they met, his father said "Go home."

Matajiro refused and worked alongside his father for five years, until worries about the passage in Congress of the Alien Exclusion Act forced him to return to Japan.

As was the Japanese custom of the day, Matajiro, who was poor, had been betrothed to the daughter of a rich family in a neighboring village. But, when Bob Watada's mother, En, saw Matajiro, she refused to marry him.

"My mother said he was the ugliest man she ever saw," Watada says.

Eventually they did get married and because of the great poverty in the area, they decided to return to Colorado.

Although the wealthy En thought she would be taking a cruise across the Pacific and then riding a train over the Rocky Mountains, she soon found out that she would have to work her way across the Pacific and that catching a train meant hopping on a boxcar in February in Seattle.

"It turned out it was the wrong boxcar and the train went to Laramie, Wyoming, not Colorado, so my parents just walked to Colorado in the middle of the winter," Watada says.

En and Matajiro raised 12 children -- 10 boys and two girls -- on the farm he started in Fort Lupton, Colo.

High school in the small farming community was fun, Watada recalls, although during World War II "we had to stay up on the farm, because if you got caught in other places you would get beat up or worse."

When Watada went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he ran into serious racial discrimination.

"You would go to a restaurant and they wouldn't wait on you. You asked for a place to rent and they would say it was already rented and tell you: 'Go away, Jap!'" he said.

"We faced a lot of overt racism and discrimination, but we realized that we would have to put up with it and the most important thing was to get an education," he said.

Watada, the son of a dirt farmer, got a degree in agricultural economics, joined the Peace Corps, came to Hawaii, worked for state and city government and in 1998 went from being a member of the Campaign Spending Commission to the commission's executive director.

Today Watada, not unlike his father, is on his own march, one firm step in front of another until he reaches his goal.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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