Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview II
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 29, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-02-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: And here, we're now up to 1970, where I understand you had been called to serve on the Gardena Planning Commission...

PB: Right.

AI: ...for a number, you had been on that commission for a number of years.

PB: Yes. That was the start, you might say, of what I told you, that I felt that business and everything, I can now -- not retire but take it a lot easier and not work so hard. I don't need the money. I should spend a little bit more time in community activities. And as a result, when I was asked to serve on the planning commission by the city council, I did. Subsequent to that, many of the people in my community came to me and said, "You know, Paul, you are serving the community and you, we need someone to run for city council. Would you run for city council?" So the following year, I did. And fortunately I was elected to the city council, so I was serving on the city council.

Well, here comes two years later in 1973, and I'm on the city council, and I get a call from Ronald Reagan, and he said, "Paul, I know that you helped me. Your name shows up as helping me for the governorship. And there was a man in your area who was the assemblyman, just passed away, and we're going to have to have a special election. And I was wondering if you would be interested to run because I know you are a Republican, and that seat has never been held by a Republican. It's a Democratic district." And I said, "No, you know, I've retired and I'm just not interested in doing that." I says, "I'm doing this city council work, because I'm at home and it's only a meeting once every two weeks or so." Well, I got a call back a little bit later, and he said, "We've talked it over, and we don't have anyone running for that seat. And win or lose, we'd like to have you go, and I will come down personally and help you raise money and help you in the campaign." Well, I thought it over, and I thought, "Well, I have nothing to lose. I am retired. I might as well." So I said, "Yes, I will run." So put my name in, and I did have a little competition. Fortunately, besides his help, Ronald Reagan's help in raising money and coming down, the widow of the Democratic man that was in office came and said, "We know about you and your effort in the city of Gardena. And even though we don't live there, we're in your district." They lived in Torrance. "We will come and help you, too." So I had a lot of help from areas I didn't even expect. And as a result of that, I was able to win that special election to the California legislature.

AI: Now, could you explain this a little bit more? You make it sound so easy, but as you mentioned, that assembly seat had been Democratic...

PB: Yes.

AI: ...for quite a long time. And the district there was heavily Democratic. And you, here you were, Republican. Now, you had served on the city council and that was a nonpartisan...

PB: Right.

AI: ...service. But where did all your support come from in terms of, you were so active in Gardena, very visible there, very well-known. How are you able to explain this, that you were able to receive enough support to become elected assemblyman as a Republican from this area?

PB: Well, there are many factors. First of all, the mere fact the district itself was 78 percent registered Democrat, so that's only, you're talking about 20-some percent Republican. The mere fact that, the popularity of Reagan as governor had a lot to do with it, because when he came down to help me and we had a rally or fundraiser, he generated an awful lot of people to vote for me. The other thing was that although I was very active in my city as a city councilman, my activities in the other things that I told you about, the Lion's Club, the real estate association, they also extended into the other areas that I was running in, Torrance, Hawthorne, Compton, all these other areas. And as a result, I think that in politics, name recognition means more than anything else. And so when people saw my name on the ballot, I think they might have associated more with my activities in some of these other service clubs, service organizations, things of this nature. And so I attribute my winning the first race at least, anyway, to that. Now, I ran three other times, and I was elected three other times. But it was the mere fact that those were the things, because I think that there's a lot of people -- this district was a very small percentage of Japanese Americans, and it wasn't a district which had minorities. It was mostly white Caucasian. So that they didn't vote against me because I was Japanese American, they voted for me because of all these things that I told you about, and that's why I able to win. In fact, I think that somewhere it's mentioned, and I'm sure there was a Chinese fellow that was there, it was a senator before me, one term, but I was the first...

AI: A state senator.

PB: ...Japanese American elected in California to a state office, which was quite an honor. I didn't run because of that. But once I got to Sacramento, my feelings were that I was representing my district and not Japanese Americans as such, so that all my activities, my votes, my bills that I had sponsored was for the community I represented more than anything else. And it worked out much better. Also because my district, as I said, was mostly Democratic, it worked out well because when I went there I had the majority, as I say, were Democratic, and there was Willie Brown, there were other speakers. And every time that they wanted help they would come to me and say, "Paul, we know that Republicans, when you meet, will talk about this. We need your help." The Republicans, they were the minority on the other hand, would say, "Hey, we want to get this bill through. Will you go talk to Willie or the Democratic side and try to get their help because we need this issue?" So I found out that as a result of my district and my feelings and the way I was working that I could help both sides and try to bring uniformity in our thoughts so we would get things done. So when I left, a lot of people said that I did do a little bit of good during my term in office, and I'm happy to know that, because I'd hate like to heck to say, well I was a detriment to my people. But I think as a result of it, we have other Japanese Americans that have been elected to the California legislature, and I don't want to say that I was the forerunner and I brought that on. But it proved one thing, that regardless of whether you are of any ethnic group, that you can be a good representative in government.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.