National / Social Issues

Asian-American politicians challenge Kyoto youngsters to enter politics

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Younger Japanese, especially women, should exercise not only their right to vote but also their right to hold elected office and enter politics, a visiting delegation of politicians from the United States said during a conference in Kyoto.

Six Asian-American state representatives from Hawaii, Vermont, Michigan, Alaska, Maryland, and Oklahoma told university students Monday that statistics show it is important to start a political career while young. If you don’t run for office to represent your values, who will, they asked.

“A former governor of Vermont, a woman who served in the 1980s, liked to say that if you’re not sitting at the table, then you’re on the menu. If decisions are made at the table without people who represent you, your issues will not be understood or heard,” said Kesha Ram, a Vermont House of Representatives legislator.

In the U.S., she added, of people elected at the city and municipal level all the way to Congress, less than 5 percent are under the age of 35. Of that 5 percent, only a quarter are women.

“The other issue is that, even though few people get all the way to the U.S. Congress, of those who do make it, over 60 percent started in politics when they were under the age of 35,” Ram added. “If you’re going to have a long, lifetime career in politics, and you’re going to get to the highest levels of power, you need to start early.”

Ram, 29, was elected to the Vermont legislature at age 22 and is still its youngest member.

“In the U.S., in Congress and the state legislatures, there’s a concept that politics is a good old boys’ club,” said Kriselda Valderrama, of the Maryland House of Delegates. “There are issues we need to hear women’s voices on: women’s social issues, women’s health issues. For example, in Maryland one of the issues we’re dealing with is midwife care. Who better than women to provide advice on such issues?”

The comments were part of panel discussion that took place at Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University. The discussion was co-organized by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the U.S.-Japan Council and Ritsumeikan University.

In addition to sharing their experiences as Asian-American politicians, several members of the group spoke about more general political, social and economic issues like specific state goals to create low-carbon and renewable energy-reliant communities.

In June, Hawaii became the first U.S. state to pass a law declaring it would get 100 percent of its electricity from renewables, setting a goal to do so by 2045.

“We expect solar to play a key role in helping us meet that goal,” said Hawaii state representative Mark Nakashima.

Vermont has adopted a goal of having 90 percent of the total energy used in the state come from renewable sources by 2050. Michigan has set a target of obtaining 30 to 40 percent of its energy from such sources by 2025 and is already generating about 10 percent from renewables, mostly wind.

Meanwhile, the state of Alaska and Kyoto Prefecture signed a memorandum of understanding on Sept. 15 to promote the exchange of information on Alaskan natural gas.

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada wants to explore the possibility of direct imports of Alaskan LNG to the port of Maizuru on the Sea of Japan, saying in the event of a natural disaster on the Pacific Ocean side, Maizuru’s LNG terminals could serve as a natural gas supplier to the affected region. The prefecture aims to get out of nuclear completely by 2040 and sees increased LNG usage as part of the plan to meet that goal.

There are still cost issues, but given Alaska’s proximity to Japan, it is advantageous for both sides, said Scott Kawasaki, a member of Alaska’s House of Representatives.