Tribute to U.S. Representative Robert T. Matsui
Young, Cheryl, Asian American Policy Review
U.S. Representative Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.) passed away 1 January 2005, and with him Americans lost a dedicated public servant and the Asian American community lost an irreplaceable leader.
Born on 17 September 1941 in Sacramento, Calif., Matsui was only six months old when he and his family were interned in Tule Lake Internment Camp in northern California. His first years of life were spent as an interned Japanese American, the memory of which compelled many of his efforts in politics.
After graduating with a degree in political ccience from the University of California, Berkeley in 1963, Matsui went on to earn a J.D. from Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. A fourteen-term Democratic congressman, Matsui was first roused to public service after hearing Pres. John F. Kennedy's inaugural address in which he challenged Americans to do something for their country.
Matsui began his political career in his hometown of Sacramento, gaining a seat in the City Council in 1971. Following two terms as City Council member, he served as vice mayor of Sacramento in 1977. In 1978, Matsui announced his candidacy for Sacramento's congressional seat, which had recently been vacated by Democratic representative John Moss. Since Matsui's victory in this race, he remained in Congress until his death, which amounted to over twenty-six years representing his district.
Known for garnering support on issues from both sides of the aisle, Matsui was an advocate of issues of great importance on the federal level while never forgetting his roots. At the time of his death, Matsui was the third-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, championing central issues such as tax policy, health care, Social Security, welfare reform, and international trade. Matsui was the ranking Democrat on the Social Security Subcommittee and was most recently involved in efforts to save Social Security and promote social insurance. Held in high esteem by his fellow Democratic congressmen, Matsui was elected as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2003, where he endeavored to win back control of the House for Democrats.
Matsui is perhaps best remembered for fighting for an issue closest to his heart: Japanese American reparations for internment during World War II. In 1998, Matsui lead the charge to ensure passage of the congressional Japanese-American Redress Act, which provided formal apologies and partial economic compensation to internment survivors. In addition, Matsui worked to designate Manzanar, a wartime relocation camp located in southern California, as a national historic site, and obtain land on the National Mall in Washington, D. …