Veteran Wahiawa Lawmaker Joins Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board

Richard Borreca
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Born in 1959, the year Hawai‘i became a state seems just the sort of perfect Hawai‘i political note for Marcus Oshiro, who recently ended his 23-year tenure as a member of the state House of Representatives.

In late August, Gov. David Ige appointed the Wahiawä sansei as the new chairman of the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board. His appointment was confirmed by the state Senate a month later when the Legislature convened in special session to pass a rail funding measure. Oshiro, a former House Labor Committee chairman, will serve out the remainder of HLRB chair Kerry Komatsubara’s term and then serve his own six-year term, set to end June 30, 2024.

During his time in the Legislature, Oshiro, a Leilehua High School graduate who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and his law degree from Willamette University, was a political power in his own right. That makes sense, as he comes from a local Wahiawä family that was a bedrock of the Hawai‘i Democratic Party, headed by his late father, Robert “Bob” Oshiro. The elder Oshiro was nicknamed the “Wizard of Wahiawä,” for his ability to galvanize a political campaign and produce winners.

The state that Marcus Oshiro was born into 58 years ago was partially shaped by the elder
Oshiro, who was an attorney, state legislator, Democratic Party leader and chairman of the Queen Emma Foundation and Queen’s Health Services.

When the senior Oshiro died in 2008, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye said Oshiro had “. . . contributed much to the social, economic and political advances that transformed Hawai‘i into a more equal and just society.”

Forming, designing, building and running Hawai‘i was the heady early history of modern Democratic Hawai‘i, but the state was on the verge of serious change when Marcus Oshiro arrived at the Legislature, representing his father’s old Wahiawä House district.

“I think Bob did a good job with Marcus. He has strong Hawai‘i plantation life values,” said former House Speaker Calvin Say.

By 2007, when Oshiro was named House Finance Committee chairman, Hawai‘i was enjoying a strong economy.

“We had a good year in 2007. I inherited a surplus that I think was $743 million. We could actually help some of the nonprofits (community service charities) and restore their funding. I wanted to re-establish the food tax credit,” Oshiro recalled recently while clearing out his State Capitol office.

“In 2008, all hell breaks loose and we go into what is called ‘the Great Recession.’ It was like Father Christmas one year and Mr. Scrooge the next. Everyone was upset,” Oshiro said.

Say said that as Finance Committee chairman, it was Oshiro’s job to write the first version of a state budget that would involve cutting jobs, taking away grants and slicing services, all in the name of keeping the state budget balanced.

“He knew what we had to do. We had to do some major take backs and exemptions. There was a big push to increase the general excise tax, but Marcus agreed with House leadership to use take backs, but no tax increase. It was very, very difficult,” Say said in an interview.

Richard Borreca is a veteran Honolulu journalist. He has worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHVH News Radio, KHON-TV, Honolulu Magazine and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for whom he now writes a Sunday column.

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