Former legislator led the way for new agriculture in Hawaii


POSTED: Thursday, March 18, 2010

Longtime state Rep. Mitsuo Uechi possessed the foresight in the 1960s to plan for Hawaii's future to become agriculturally self-sufficient during those pivotal years of change.

“;Mits Uechi is the grandfather of the new agriculture—maybe the great-grandfather—in Hawaii,”; said former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who was a freshman state legislator when Uechi served as House Agriculture Committee chairman and asked him to join the committee.

“;He foresaw that we would move away from the plantation culture, a mass plantation culture of sugar and pine, and he led the way explaining to people that we could become food-self-sufficient and that we should try to train people for that.”;

Uechi, who served in the state House from 1963 to 1980, died Feb. 12 at age 76.

Born Aug. 14, 1933, in Waimea, Kauai, Uechi attended Waimea High School, Bob Jones University and Peabody College. He became a schoolteacher and taught at Radford High School.


State House Speaker Calvin Say said Uechi was “;excellent in promoting and supporting agriculture.”;

He was actively involved in the Kohala Task Force, which was formed after Kohala Plantation shut down, to help retrain former sugar workers, Say said. He also pushed for agriculture parks where farmers could cultivate and grow their crops.

Uechi “;was a very compassionate person, who wanted to educate the new freshmen and sophomores that came in,”; Say said. “;He had an open-door policy.”;

Abercrombie said during his first year in the Legislature, Uechi told him: “;If you want to see what the future of Hawaii needs to be, you come on this committee.”;

Abercrombie said: “;He knew what was coming. His memorial will be the new agriculture that will bring us food independence in Hawaii. That will be his legacy.”;

Uechi was the leader of a dissident group of House Democrats who demanded certain changes to the House rules and organizational structure, former Gov. Ben Cayetano relates in his autobiography, “;Ben: A Memoir.”;

“;Uechi was no shrinking violet when it came to political infighting,”; Cayetano writes. “;He was an expert on parliamentary procedure and knew the House rules by heart. He was smart, but had a knack for getting under people's skin.”;

During a 1979 dispute over organizational issues, former House Majority Leader Henry Peters broke his knuckles on Uechi's office furniture.

After Uechi left the Legislature, he worked for Hawaii Dental Service and the Department of Agriculture.

Uechi is survived by his wife, Catherine; sons Steven and David; daughter Shareen Kidd; brothers Shigeru “;Chuck”; and Kazuo “;Cookie”;; sisters Fumiko Itokazu, Sumiko Irei and Aiko Eckerd; and four grandchildren.

Private services were held.