Katsugo Miho
522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT

Politics

A non-partisan in the early 1950s, Katsugo supports candidates without regard to party affiliations. He is involved in several campaigns.

In 1958, to the disappointment of friends in the Democratic Party, he joins the Republicans.

He is elected to the state house of representatives in 1959 and serves until 1970. He authors the Horizontal Property Regime Law.

From 1989 to 1995, Katsugo serves on the Hawaii Housing Commission.

Political Career

Somehow, after discharge, we were involved with all this forming of the veterans club and all that. And along the way, there were few very active members of the veterans group who wanted to get involved with politics.

My brother Katsuro had been a Democratic party member and he had worked for Governor [Ingram] Stainback in private practice. Just before statehood, he was involved with [Honolulu] Mayor [John] Wilson’s last campaign. So I was involved as one of the steering committee, just an advisory committee.

My first involvement in politics was being part of Johnny Wilson’s reelection committee. My recollection is that the signs were there already, that the mayor was past his prime already. He was quite elderly, and there was this activist by the name of Frank Fasi. Frank Fasi incurred the wrath of some of the diehard Democratic party members because he defeated Mayor Wilson handedly in the primary. I think, to this day, some of the Democratic stronghold members never forgave Frank for the vigorous campaign during the time he was trying to succeed Mayor Wilson. But that was my first introduction to politics. This was [1954].

I was not a member of either of the parties. My work was strictly voluntary, as a young veteran. I remember getting involved with these city and county races of Clarence Taba, [a Democrat] who was trying to run as a city and county treasurer. I also remember working on behalf of [Republican] Hiram Fong. I think he was the last, before statehood. And so it was strictly on a person-to-person basis, not on a party affiliation basis. [Democrat] Masato Doi’s campaign, I was very much involved.

What happened was that at that point [1958], my very good friend, Donald Ching, with whom we went to George Washington Law School, called me up one day. Although we were having our poker sessions every Friday evenings, this was one day, he asked, “Hey, it’s about time” I signed the [Democratic party membership] card. He says, “Well, I’ll be down in the office later on in the morning.”

At the same time, Tadao Beppu gave me a call, too. Tadao and I were pretty good friends. We grew up in Maui. He said, “Donald’s going to come.” So I said, “Well, okay, I want to be there if Donald’s going to be there.”

In the meantime, there was this conversation going on with Hiram Fong, my brother, and somebody on the telephone. This happened to be Mayor [Neal] Blaisdell. Mayor Blaisdell was running for reelection, 1958. At that time, the city and county was run by city councilmen. Nine city council members running all at large. The whole island. Mayor Blaisdell had been in touch with Hiram. The mayor had to run with a slate of candidates for the city council. They wanted to work as a team, and he was lacking one more candidate to be on his team. Preferably an AJA. I think Ernest Yamane and I. Well, at that point, I hadn’t agreed yet. So these two had a conversation.

Somehow, I think it was Blaisdell who asked Hiram. He said, “How about Kats’s younger brother?” I don’t know why they didn’t ask Katsuro. But he was never trying to become a candidate himself. I guess he and Hiram felt one was enough, between the two of them, to be in politics. So anyway, Hiram says, “Why don’t you go run?”

I said, “No, I’m not involved.”

Joining the Republican Party

My brother and Hiram argued that it was bad for the AJA community that so many of the veterans would become only Democratic candidates, that for the AJA community to have all of its veterans joining the Democratic party and becoming only Democrats is not in the best interest of not only the Japanese community, but for the entire community of Hawaii. This discussion took place over about an hour, I would estimate. But at any rate, I got convinced that maybe I should not, even though my sentiments were — and now when I think about it, politics, at that point, was strictly on a person-to-person basis. I had not been involved in party politics, I had not been involved in any kind of party movement, like the Republican party or the Democratic party.

My brother being a member of the Democratic party, was on the outside of the Democratic party. There was this Jack Burns group who was dominating the Democratic party. And, somehow, and I guess because [Katsuro] was a partner of Hiram Fong, who’s a Republican leader at that point, the inner party of the Democratic movers never did completely accept my brother as a Democrat.

I felt kind of hurt and disturbed of the fact that my brother was not given a proper recognition or a place in the party system. I think even back then, this had persuaded me to get involved with the Republican party. Because, basically, I did not approve of the way how my brother was being treated by the Democratic party members. I know he was being left out of a lot of inner meetings and whatnot. And above all, I think this was one of the major reasons why I joined the Republican party. Not only because it was bad AJA influence, but more on a personal basis that my brother was being on the outside of the Democratic party.

By the time Donald found out that I had already committed myself to run as a city councilman. Donald didn’t speak to me for about one month or so. But after that it didn’t matter. We, all of my friends, accepted me for what I am.

Campaign sign for Katsugo Miho when he ran for the City and County of Honolulu Board of Supervisors.
Campaign sign for Katsugo Miho when he ran for the City and County of Honolulu Board of Supervisors.

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Very few of my friends held it against me. Some of the people who I knew casually, never accepted me as a friend thereafter. There are some diehards, Democrats, who strictly, strong partisan workers and, soon, you get to know who they are. But those people didn’t bother me. But the thing is that I soon found out that after I got elected in the first state legislature, that very often, I was very much outside the circle of the Republican train of thought.

Hawaii State Legislature, Iolani Palace Throne Room, Opening Day.
Hawaii State Legislature, Iolani Palace Throne Room, Opening Day.

My friend, Jimmy Clark, and I, always ended up being the minority of the minority, which was a hard role. Jimmy Clark ultimately switched parties. He tried to get me to go along with him, but my explanation to him was, “Jimmy, I don’t feel it to be a personal choice.” When I became a Republican party member and ran for politics I had to depend on a lot of my personal friends who, in spite of their personal feeling, decided to back me up and support in my candidacy. And they work as Republicans I’m sure, they would not appreciate if I then switched over.

[I represented fifteenth district.] It was a multiple [member] district, the biggest multiple district at that time. There were six of us [representatives]. It covered all the way from McCully, Makiki, Waikiki, the biggest district at that time. It was multiple districts. And so in a multiple district, very little party control, but I was reelected five times. I served eleven years. The first term was three years.

Katsugo Miho as state representative.  Opening day of legislative session.
Katsugo Miho as state representative. Opening day of legislative session.

From my district was James Shigemura, Hiram Fong, Jr., Dorothy Devereux, Eureka Forbes, myself, and Stuart Ho. Six of us. It was very mixed. But then they made it into single districts.

That’s when they took away my AJA votes by putting three Democratic candidates. So that at the general election, my usual stronghold AJA votes was diluted because they had three AJA Democratic candidates.

After I lost in 1970, I was not involved with the Republican party functions or matters. As a matter of fact, becoming appointed as a [family court] referee, Judge Lum and I, we had to get the approval of Governor Burns. Governor Burns had put a freeze on employment in 1970. Any position, like the refereeship, was subject to the approval of the governor. So Judge Lum had to obtain the approval of the governor to open up my position, the position in the refereeship and approve my appointment. So I am basically a Democratic appointee. Because although I was Republican party member, in order to get a job in the state under the Governor Burns’s regime, I had to get his approval.

So anyway, I got appointed with the blessing of the governor. When I didn’t get my reappointment six years later, I don’t think the people who were involved with the appointment process knew the background of how I got appointed.

The first renewal of the judgeship, the only two people who did not get reappointed was Barry Rubin and myself. Barry Rubin was a strong Republican who was a candidate for house, as a Republican, before he became a judge. They say that it’s non-political, but when you have so many people appointed by the governor, so many people appointed by the house and the senate, the judicial appointment is not as non-political as it seems.

Horizontal Property Regime Law

That’s very interesting how [the horizontal property regime law] became put into law. In politics, if you’re a member of the minority party, your piece of legislation never becomes law. If you introduce a bill under your name, majority party may put in their own, similar bill, under their member’s signature.

But in that case, it so happened that we had a big fiasco, development fiasco. I think was the Monarch Development where — the condominiums at that time was, you only had a leasehold. You did not have ownership in the fee. Monarch Development, absconded with down-payment money. A whole bunch of people lost their investment because the investors had no interest in the fee. All what they had was a leasehold interest. When the developer absconded with the money, they had nothing. And that was the right time to pass this horizontal property regime law because the horizontal property regime gave the apartment owners a percentage interest in the fee of the land.

When I was going to law school in Washington, D.C., I knew of an apartment where it was a condominium, a fee [simple] condominium that was very unusual. There was no law at that point, but this one particular building in Washington, D.C., the owners of the apartment also owned the percentage interest in the fee. I had heard about it. With my contact with the Finance Factors, Hiram Fong’s, they had a finance investment very interested in land. And together, we located a model legislation that was being developed in Puerto Rico. So we got the basic model form of the horizontal property regime law.

The senate that session was under the control of the Republicans. The house was under the control of the Democrats, that year. I think the first state legislature. Yasutaka Fukushima, on the senate side, introduced the same bill that I introduced in the house. Now, both measures passed the house as well as the senate. But in the house, they turned over my bill to the senate after they received the senate’s bill. What happened was that when two bills pass the senate, you normally have an agreement that the bill that came in first is the one that ultimately work on. So the senate bill came to the house first. My bill went to the senate. The senate received my bill, it was sitting on the table so to speak. So at the very closing moments of the session, they were trying to bargain and play with the chairman of both the judicial committee. Because of some differences, I forgot what differences it was, the house killed Fukushima’s bill. But what the senate did was, my bill, they passed it untouched, and so it became law, as is. So a minority member’s bill became law because of these circumstances.

It was very unusual, but it changed the whole format in Hawaii. It was the bill that opened the doors wide for all the developers we now see today, the horizontal property regime law.

[It helped change the landscape of the city] because it provided all apartment owners security into the development — apartment development. They had an interest in the land, together with the apartment.

It was very significant. But pure chance, so to speak. Oh, eventually, I’m sure someone would have found out about it. It just so happened that I had remembered this Washington, D.C. apartment where — as a matter of fact, Ted Tsukiyama’s wife, Fuku, and her roommate lived in that apartment. The apartment that Fuku and her roommate lived in was [a] fee-simple condominium. That’s how I learned about it.

[Being a veteran] played a big part [in relationships and being able to make things happen]. Especially the ties of the 442nd veterans. We had very strong ties among ourselves. Not only political arena. But at that time, many of the 442nd and 100th veterans were a dominating factor in politics, in 1955 on. Even after that, in government aspects, I forgot the number of veterans who were judges. We had a whole slew of 442nd veterans or 100th Infantry veterans as judges.

My field artillery, 522nd Field Artillery, we had Judge Hiroshi Kato, Judge Clinton Shiraishi. In my battery, my very good friends [Edward] “Ed” Nakamura, associate supreme court justice. Edwin Honda, with whom the three of us spent three close years in the same battery. In the infantry, you had a whole bunch of others who were, counting from Masato Doi to [Matsuo] “Matsy” Takabuki, all the bunch of politicians and judges. But throughout the islands, we had these contacts and so their influence on all things was very much influenced by veterans.

442nd Club and Politics

The club itself had absolutely no right to get involved in politics. You know, you’re a nonprofit charitable organization, you cannot get involved as a club in politics. All the years that I’ve been a member of the 442nd, and a charter member, it was basically a great concern that at no time would the club officially get involved as a club in politics.

Lately, we’ve had a couple of instances when a individual would say, put down an ad, or put down, “Member of 442nd Veterans Club.” That’s strictly done on an individual basis, but it is borderline because the club then has to disclaim the fact that the club, as a club, was involved in politics.

So you never see any endorsement pictures or anybody as an officer of the club, or using the name of the club as an endorsement. Just recently there was an article about Internal Revenue [Service] getting into all these non-charitable organizations getting involved in politics. This is of great concern because one of the reasons why we are tax-exempt is because we are not involved in politics.

Hawaii Housing Commission

[I returned to private practice and eventually become a counsel to Servco.] I got involved with the Hawaii Housing Commission [Hawaii State Housing Authority], the public housing authority. That was under Governor John Waihee’s appointment. So both, so-called non-political jobs that I got, is under Democratic governors. Governor Burns and Governor Waihee.

The commissioner’s appointment is basically four years, but I replaced somebody after the first year, and so at the first term was three years, and then I served another second term of four years. So seven years [1989 – 1995] I served as a member of the Hawaii Housing Commission.

It was the executive director who was appointee of the commission. But the housing commission basic duty was to oversee the housing program of the state. More importantly, as commissioners, our authority was quasi-judicial because the commission had the power to evict residents for non-payment, or for disruptive behavior, or for whatever reason that we have as by state law. We have obligation to manage and run the Hawaii Housing. I think it was an eight-member commission.

What we did was, the housing tenants were subject to eviction. Primarily for a non-payment of rental. It was the primary duty of the commission to hear the appeals. They would appeal to the commission, the order of eviction. The hearing would be held by the commission members, and then we would either allow the eviction or overrule the eviction. We’ve had instances where we’ve overruled the hearing officer’s decision to evict. But ultimately, the eviction —they have a further right to appeal to the courts.

During my tenure, I don’t recall if we had any appeals of our decision to the circuit court, because the Legal Aid [Society] would step in, in cases where they thought that our ruling was not appropriate. But it’s a real problem because after we evict the individual, family members, and they become homeless, the department continues to be responsible for them under the homeless program. So it is basically something that is from one hand to the other hand in the department of housing.

Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.

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