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Title: John Tateishi Interview
Narrator: John Tateishi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-469-17

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So you kind of kept in touch, or enough so that you knew what was going on, so that you could be helping it...

JT: Do what I can. I was like any other JACL member, just contributing what I could. I had enough contacts that I knew it would help for them to, for me to talk to them. See, what I did was, when I first got there, it was clear that there was this whole body of people who you had to work with. There were those, like Barney Frank, first time I went to see Barney, says, "Look, don't waste your time with me. I'm with you all the way. Go see so-and-so, he's a jerk." So we divided the lists, Ikejiri and I. The absolute yes, the absolute nos, the maybes and maybe yes, maybe no. And there was this fence, and so I went to the other side. The ones who were resisting, my whole career in Washington was, with redress, was talking with Republicans and the old Blue Dog Democrats, who finally got honest and switched and became Republicans. But they're the ones who were resisting, and what I did was I figured, okay, the absolute nos, waste of time. I'll work that middle ground of maybes, and so I started this long process of, for eight years, talking to the maybes and trying to convince them, if not to vote for it, not to resist it, don't vote against it. And so we were able to convert some people.

TI: And any stories, any success stories?

JT: Not that I can share.

TI: Okay. [Laughs]

JT: Or not that I want to share. Some of it was gruesome, some of it was okay. But I will tell you someone like Jack Kemp was a really difficult guy to work with. He was so partisan and so mean-minded... I mean, the first thing I realized, I walked into Jack Kemp's office, his receptionist was a really ugly woman, and I think he personally put her there as sort of a gatekeeper to make people go away. I got to know her, and she was okay, and she knew why she was there. But he was a nasty guy, and he was Mr. Mean on the House side until Newt Gingrich got elected and started working his way up. He replaced Kemp as the guy you don't want to be around.

TI: As you just talked about you specializing more on the other side in terms of Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, I had a similar conversation with Grant Ujifusa, who, because of his sort of political standing, said he did the same thing. Did you guys work together?

JT: No. Grant and I never worked together. He was the editor of my book, and there was a point where we went different ways. You know, you make friends you make enemies, sometimes you don't know why, things just happened. I mean, D.C.'s a funny world. I did make an enemy of myself with Bob Matsui, I know that. He and I had a big fight, very public. As a lobbyist you learn, don't be stupid, and don't say words in public, except he chose the public arena with me, I had no choice. So we had this real --

TI: With Bob, what was the issue?

JT: You don't need to know the issue, it's just that we had a really serious falling out, to the point that I could not go to his office. I mean, I was basically barred from his office, which was too bad, but quite honestly, I wasn't working that much with his office at that point because there were some things that just kind of didn't fit for me. And Norm Mineta, to me, was the hero through all of this. I mean, Dan Inouye is the one I met with most often, was someone I really respected and really was in awe of at the beginning, and pretty much as long as I knew him. Although he got a lot more familiar with me as we became more friends then, my position versus where he is. But he was a very, very powerful and influential guy, fun guy to be around. But in my books, Norm Mineta was, this is the guy who helped get redress passed. He was the most important person among the four, because Dan Inouye had Spark Matsunaga, who himself was really well-liked, I mean, he was loved by his colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, there were only a hundred members over there, Sparky could get fifty just like that.

TI: To sponsor a bill?

JT: Yeah. Norm Mineta and Bob Matsui faced 435 members, over half of whom didn't know this issue. I mean, when I first went there, I was getting meetings with staff who handle things like the whale issue, foreign relations, anything but constitutional. I'd have to tell them, "No, this doesn't have anything to do with Japan. I need to talk to whoever is in charge of government administration or constitutional issues." And there was this kind of puzzled look like, "Why?"

TI: You're the Japanese American Citizens League, right?

JT: Yeah, I'm a Japanese lobbyist. So that's what Norm had to deal with, and he was a senior guy. He had been there, and he was a rising star by the time Bob Matsui got there. So Norm was the guy who had all the influence, and he used a lot of political chits to get us to a position where they could get it on the floor and take a vote on it. And I realized a lot of the votes that we didn't have by the time I left, we could maybe change five, maybe ten. Any others that changed would be Norm and Bob personally working those votes. Because as a lobbyist, you can only go so far. You can get constituents to convince their members, but that's a long haul, and it takes time. But when Mineta picks up the phone and calls somebody, you better believe they listen.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.