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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

TRANSITION: PART 11--On to the U.S. Senate

I was working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory during the summer of 1979 when I got a call inquiring if I would be interested in a position with U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, as Dr. Takeshi Yoshihira (here to the left with his wife Elva and son David, a Navy Captain, in 2001--my recollection is that Tak was the first American of Japanese extraction to graduate from Annapolis), Matsunaga's energy specialist, had indicated he had decided to return to Hawaii.  Talking to Cherry Matano, Senator Matsunaga's Administrative Assistance, if I wanted to be picked up when I arrived, I was told to land at National Airport (it was renamed the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in 1998), for the second energy crisis was at peak and gasoline was a scarce commodity.  National is about ten times closer (3 miles - 26 miles) than Dulles International Airport.

Moving a household is always painful.  We leased our apartment in Honolulu and purchased one in Skyline Towers in Falls Church, where across the street one way was Arlington, and the other, Alexandria.  However, parking was a problem, so I had to catch a bus to the Metro in Ballston, then on to Union Station.  

I reported to the main office in the Russell Building, and they showed me to my office across the street, where, of all the pleasant surprises, my officemate was Bill Baldwin, the plantation manager who  had introduced me to Pearl.  He had retired and joined Sparky as his Sugar Man.  In the next office sat general counsel, Ed Ing, who nearly two decades later became Chairman of the Board of the American Wind Energy Association, and later, Harvey Meyerson (who actually came from Representative Cecil Heftel's office), who wrote The Mars Project.


Next to my job at Hutch in the sugar industry, this was my second toughest.  You show up at 9-ish AM, but many times come home at 9-ish PM.  There are receptions to go to two or three nights a week.  You must wear a jacket and tie, with real shoes.  You never catch up responding to constituent mails, but quickly learn how to write really fast.  There were times when a floor speech was needed in half an hour, or less.  And it has to be ABSOLUTELY correct, for this is eternally in the Congressional Records (actually, you can later go back and amend anything).  You seal relationships with "friends" in the U.S. Department of Energy and other departments.  Staff in the U.S. Congress become lifelong partners, and even some Senators.

I was totally intimidated at the beginning, but quickly learned.  My first day at work, Senator Matsunaga asks me how he should vote on a crucial issue.  Turns out that, with rare exceptions, all Senators and Representatives vote exactly how his specific staff tells him to vote on any issue, in committee and on the floor.  I think this was incredible, but I don't once remember advising him in a manner that was embarrassing.  Considering that I was guessing most of the time, I place this performance among my finest.  In fact, I would categorize this as a major miracle.

I helped write original legislation for hydrogen, ocean thermal energy conversion and wind power, all becoming law, setting the stage for these national programs.  I still remember advising Sparky to stop by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on one  of his next visits home, and he did.  Upon arriving in DC, he told me to draft a hydrogen bill.  I asked, how is this related to fusion, and he said, basically...you idiot, a renewable energy hydrogen bill.  Apparently, the people at Livermore wanted something like this to balance their Death-Ray and other exotic nuclear exploits.  Lockheed Martin, it turned out, with former President of that company, Willis Hawkins, and Dan Brewer, who wrote the definitive book on Hydrogen Aircraft Technology, providing expert advice.  The result was the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act.  One major reason I was sent to Congress was that many of us in the '70's realized that Hawaii was so dependent on the tourist industry, that we just had to find a replacement for conventional airliners.  While this legislation resulted in the $2 billion National Aerospace Plane, nothing much has happened since our original success in 1980's.

How our Congress works is that the private sector provides the experience and knowledge to write most of the legislation.  Then they testify to support it, all the while providing campaign funds to make sure their supporters get re-elected.  This is where I got to realize that certain industries almost totally controlled Congress and the White House.  For example, even though the Cold War ended more than two decades ago, we keep expanding our defense budget because of the Military-Industrial Complex.  President Dwight Eisenhower, as you know, in his final speech in 1961,warned us of this danger.

After three years of this rather stressful experience, but balanced with Concerts on the Mall, forays into New York City, tulips, fall colors, cherry blossoms, incredible meals subsidized by lobbyists, and all the pomp and circumstance of DC, where I watched Ronald Reagan on one of his State of Union Addresses in the U.S. House, went to the White House, attended a Supreme Court session, and I can go on and on, the University of Hawaii informed me that, after three years, I had to return or lose tenure, I came home to Hawaii.

Next:  my most productive years as Director of Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and Vice President of Research for the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research.

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In case you were wondering, Hurricane Amanda is a hurricane no more.

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