As this blogger was scrolling the news on Sunday, May 21, the first notice was that former Hawai‘i State Senator Sam Slom had passed away. Over the next couple of days, more recollections and reflections on Sam came out, reminding everyone that a generation of political actors are passing away.
The loss hit as others who have been part of the Hawai‘i Republican Party, which was respected in the general community, had also passed away recently. One person in that realm that PHwSF will write about in good time is recollections of Marion Gray.
I FIRST GOT TO KNOW Sam Slom from a distance. That distance was the fact that he was running for Hawai‘i Kai Senate in 1996, and I was a junior in college at the University Of Hawai‘i. At a time when bigger names in the conservative movement were also running for office – more specifically Orson Swindle who was running for Congress – Sam didn’t feel so out of place, and in fact, almost felt that a Caucasian running for the Legislature in Hawai‘i Kai was not much out of the ordinary.
Almost a decade later, and three jobs later, I would finally meet Sam face to face. While I don’t exactly remember the event it was at, his presence was not lost on me or the audience he addressed that night. And at the personal, face-to-face level, Sam was really hard to beat. He was personable in his one-on-one with people, firm handshake and all. And then he would immediately convert into a public speaker, impressing a crowd that was there, more times than not, for another candidate.
And that was the thing with Sam, he played the conservative superstar in Hawai’i, at times even overshadowing the Governor of Hawai‘i, who was also Republican. More often than not, Sam would be at these events talking up the crowd. Eventually, I realized that if you were a Republican candidate for office, and wanted superstar power at your fundraiser, you called on Sam.
And he delivered.
Of course, his schtick was that of the “Lone Ranger” – being the only Republican Senator in the Hawai‘i State Senate. But even with his presence, he ensured that whatever he was doing was noted and publicized. I remember his attempt to rewrite the entire state budget as an amendment to the state budget that was currently on the floor of the Senate. It was an elaborate effort (having seen a similar effort done by my then-boss, Charles Djou, for the City Council). And then not resting, put together presentation and media materials to explain why his budget was better.
It went nowhere, as predicted.
But as an elected official, he tried. For me, you give Sam Slom 10 points for trying because, despite the futility of moving a Republican idea in a body that is 96% Democratic (as the political landscape in Hawai‘i generally is), Sam said it, and did it anyway, and then proudly put his name on the idea, labeled it Republican values and then let the dice dictate the outcome. Find me a politician these days that can do that, with Sam’s style.
I don’t see many if any at all.
WHILE DISCUSSING RESPONSIBLE SPENDING, I recall a memory of Sam’s approach to purchasing supplies for his Senate office. If you were to speak with him or his team, you would learn that he prided himself on never using a single penny of his Senate office allowance, which is provided to each Senator for expenses such as food, water, and office supplies. Sam even highlighted this during his speeches at campaign fundraisers, possibly hoping to inspire other candidates to follow suit if elected.
But as far as I know, no other Republican officeholder was as virtuous as Sam on this issue.
More so, during his prime years in serving, Sam would never put on the airs of office, or even pretend that somehow, he was more well-off than the average citizen. I remember him talking about buying water and such for his son’s baseball team, and saying that he transports that all in his Saturn Relay minivan. For someone that at one time was the lead economist for the Bank of Hawai‘i and then a state senator, his choice of transportation seemed very pedestrian, if not normal for a good majority of the people of Hawai‘i.
During the years 2010-2019, it became apparent that Sam’s energy levels were decreasing even though he still had a spark within him. He had previously established Small Business Hawai’i, which was an impressive organization similar to today’s Grassroot Institute of Hawai’i, but unfortunately, it lost its effectiveness and was eventually shut down. As Sam announced his candidacy for the 2016 election, observers recognized that he would need to channel the same level of energy he had in 1996 to compete with the formidable opponent, Stanley Chang.
It was disheartening to witness Sam’s inability to uplift the spirited campaigner, who unfortunately ended up losing to Chang. What made matters worse was that after the defeat, Sam withdrew and began to recede. Despite earning significant recognition from both political parties, Sam had the chance to transition from being a mere elected official to a prominent Hawai‘i statesman. We caught a glimpse of his potential statesmanship when he and Colleen Hanabusa hosted a “crossfire” style segment on Rick Hamada’s morning radio program.
In fact, in an “in memory of” Sam shows that Hamada held on Tuesday the 23rd, Colleen made it clear that Sam got OG respect from the side of the aisle that Colleen sits on. It is probably a good bet that while those on the Democratic side would not interface with Sam too much, many likely were privately paying attention to what he put forward in the Senate and paid more attention to his speeches on the floor.
Maybe those stories will come out when more detente occurs between the parties.
AT THE END though, with the respect that he deserved, Governor Josh Green ordered all flags at half-staff during the week Sam died. It was a nice gesture as it’s always hit or miss whether a Democratic governor of Hawai‘i will recognize the passing of a prominent Republican.
Of course, those who thought more of Sam would wish that the Governor would allow for a viewing in the Capitol rotunda with the pomp and circumstance that a ceremony like that deserves. In a final reflection, I am sure that Sam wouldn’t ask for it, but he wouldn’t eschew the demonstration if provided.
That was, who was, Sam Slom.