By: Jeanette Takamura
Who or what inspired you to work in public service?
My inspiration to work in public service came from the Nisei soldiers who fought in World War II and returned to Hawai’i, my home state, full of idealism and determination to bring about social change through political action and community service. After using their GI Bill benefits to earn higher education degrees, they returned to Hawai’i to run for office, become educators, and help build the state in the post-war period. Among the accomplishments of the Nisei generation that were particularly inspirational are two: 1) the passage of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 (renamed the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act) spurred by Congresswoman Mink’s leadership and 2) the enactment of the 1974 Hawai’i Prepaid Health Care Act, which provided nearly universal health care to Hawai’i’s residents long before Massachusetts enacted health care reform in 2006.
What is something you are excited about right now?
I am excited about the intelligence, level of comfort with multiculturalism, multilingual competence (including coding), commitment to equality, degree of social responsibility, courage to innovate, and ease of being in diverse contexts that I see in so many young people – in my students, for example. After all, they are our hope for the nation’s future.
What is your favorite class that you ever taught or took, and why?
I have so many favorite classes that I took when I majored in political science and sociology and minored in English literature. I loved my comparative international political science courses and a range of literature courses. I used linguistic analysis to examine a poem by e.e. cummings in one of my lit courses. When I studied for my M.S.W. degree, I was taught by an individual who was arguably the best clinical practice instructor at the School. Inspired by her, I was determined to be the very best family therapist possible. But life happens, and I was tapped two years after graduating to join the faculty of the School of Social Work and the School of Medicine at the University of Hawai’i to lead an interdisciplinary project for the four Schools of the College of Health Sciences and Social Welfare. This led to the pursuit of a doctoral degree at the Heller School at Brandeis University where a course on the sociology of knowledge was singularly impactful, providing new lenses for trenchant analyses of the most challenging social issues for which we strive to develop policy interventions.
What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?
I would advise those beginning in public service to commit to excellence, to learn all that they can from the best of many civil servants who have acquired intricate knowledge of governance structures, systems, and processes, and to end each day by answering one simple question: What have I done today to make life better for people in our nation?
Was there a transformational experience in your life that relates to public service?
In the late 1980s my team and I proposed a statewide universal comprehensive long-term care financing program. We had engaged demographers, actuaries, policy experts, and others before running private and public-sector long-term care financing options through a simulation model that used a “sample” population of 22,000 Hawai’i residents of all ages. We were prepared for the policy fight, but not for the Gulf War which erupted just as we were introducing our proposal. The governor backed away from the proposal, which, if enacted then, would be in its 30+ years of implementation with coverage for nursing home and home and community-based services. Commissions were funded year after year and the proposal was reintroduced annually for almost 20 years. When a version of it passed, the then-governor vetoed it. The lesson was that life throws you curve balls, and you must keep moving forward. Hence, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, which is part of the Older Americans Act, was a step forward. Hopefully, someday it will be replaced by a national program that funds care for persons who must rely heavily on family members who are stretched thin or on the Medicaid program.
What is your favorite midnight snack?
I try not to eat before sleeping, but IF I snacked at midnight, it would be difficult to choose between a brownie and real ramen soup with all the garnishes.
Do you have any pets at home?
I love dogs and cats, but my work and travel schedules and my allergies make having a pet impossible. However, I have had dogs I don’t know in the neighborhood come and stand very, very, very close to me (makes me worry that they think I’m a pole or a hydrant, although I don’t think I look like either), and my neighbor’s cat, a winsome Maine coon, sits on my doormat and follows me around in the hall, which presents a problem as I am terribly allergic to him.
If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?
I would want to see two things: 1) the declaration that we have reversed global warming 2) a commemorative event that celebrates the indisputable achievement of a truly inclusive nation – the more perfect union for which we must continue to strive.
Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?
I read widely – everything from The Economist to academic journals to The New York Times to The Washington Post to The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, People, Axios, Politico, books on tape, and a whole lot more. I believe it is essential for me to understand pop culture and how my students see the world.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
My father always said to not be consumed with worry because 99% of what one worries about never happens. But I am wired to think through problems from every possible angle and to formulate contingency plans. After that, I don’t worry. Former DHHS Secretary Donna Shalala consistently offered superb advice, usually one sentence long and incisive. When I went to Columbia University to be a dean, her greatest gift was one sentence long.