VOX POPULI: Setting the Record Straight

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By GERALD YAMADA

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In his National Director’s Report (Pacific Citizen, July 15-Aug. 4, 2011), Floyd Mori provided readers a narcissistic account of how the National Park Service (NPS) grants program came to be authorized by Public Law 109-441. As national coordinator for the Japanese American National Heritage Coalition (Heritage Coalition), I am compelled to set the record straight.

Mori wrongly attributes passage of Public Law 109-441 to support from JACL and John Tateishi. The record shows that the National JACL Board initially voted to not join the Heritage Coalition and therefore not to support the Heritage Coalition’s initiative to create a new grant program to preserve the confinement sites.

When asked by a member of the audience about the initiative at the Arkansas All-Camps Workshop, Tateishi stated that he did not think the legislation had any chance of passing. Although JACL did eventually join the Heritage Coalition, Tateishi never returned any of my phone calls to discuss the legislation strategy.

The record also shows that not a single communication went from Tateishi or Mori to the JACL chapters asking them to support the legislation. Nor does the record show a single letter of support sent to a member of Congress by National JACL or a JACL chapter. At critical points, when I asked members of the Heritage Coalition to contact their senators and representatives, at every point my friends in the DC JACL Chapter said that nothing was sent by National JACL to the DC Chapter about supporting the legislation.

This lack of vision, leadership, and support made JACL largely irrelevant to the successful passage of Public Law 109-441 and its implementation.

Mori was right to say that Rep. Bill Thomas (R-San Luis Obispo) was extremely helpful in moving the legislation through the House.  But Mori was wrong about what motivated Thomas. It is simply delusional to say that Thomas, a very, very conservative Republican out of Bakersfield, sponsored the bill out of “close friendship” with Mori.

Thomas, once an instructor at Bakersfield College, told me at our first meeting that he deeply regretted what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II. Thomas was the lead sponsor of the legislation that designated Manzanar as a NPS unit. Mori’s characterization of Thomas’ support would have allowed opponents to label the bill as “special interest” legislation and thus kill it in committee.

Mori’s awkward attempt to enhance his personal legacy should not come at the expense of Japanese Americans whose hard work in fact produced the legislative success. Rep. Bob Matsui (D-Sacramento) had agreed to be the lead Democratic sponsor but died before Thomas was able to introduce the Heritage Coalition’s bill in the House.

Thomas then asked Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) and Mike Honda (D-San Jose) to join him in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to other House members asking for their support. It was this joint letter plus the over 200 Heritage Coalition letters that produced 114 bipartisan co-sponsors.

In the Senate, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) was the bill’s sponsor. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas was the lead Republican co-sponsor. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) was the ranking minority member on the committee with jurisdiction over the bill. Sens. Inouye and Akaka successfully opposed unwanted amendments to the bill and created the legislative history making all member organizations of the Heritage Coalition eligible to apply for NPS grants. Today, the Heritage Coalition numbers 33 national and local organizations.

Public Law 109-441 is authorizing legislation.  To implement the program, annual appropriations legislation also is needed. Every year since Public Law 109-441 was passed, Rep. Matsui has taken the lead in sending out a “Dear Colleague” letter asking other members to join her in asking the Appropriations Committee to fund the NPS grant program. Rep. Honda has been equally helpful but is constrained because he is himself a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Two years lapsed before the program received funding.  In the last fiscal year, the President requested $1 million for the NPS grants program. A House Appropriations subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), upped the amount to $2.5 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Inouye, further increased the amount to $3 million, which was the amounted enacted.

With the tremendous pressure that Congress now faces in reducing the federal deficit, we will need their support, and yours, to continue funding the NPS grant program.

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Gerald Yamada is national coordinator of the Japanese American National Heritage Coalition. Vox Populi is a forum for the community. Contributions to Vox Populi may be sent 138 Onizuka St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, Attn: Editor, or emailed to Editor, Gwen Muranaka. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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