Just like any dedicated public servant, Kaua’i Rep. Daynette “Dee” Morikawa is running from one place to another. Having worked until 3 a.m. at the Capitol before catching the first flight home, she’s managed to play in a scholarship golf tournament on 30 minutes of sleep. Following this, it’s off to the all-night-long Relay for Life in Hanapepe.
But the former Waimea High School golf coach knows a little something about powering through and keeping her mind strong.
“I believe my positive attitude carries through to my work as a legislator,” she says. “I always told my golfers to be kind and courteous to each other, because kindness, courtesy and respect will come right back to you.”
It’s with a kind of down-home style that Morikawa approaches tasks at the Legislature, she adds, coming from inspiration she gets from home.
“What I love about Kaua’i is that my front yard is the ocean and my backyard is Waimea Canyon,” she says. “We can easily access our natural resources here, and Kaua’i is such a vibrant green. The beauty is breathtaking, the people are friendly and we are family who take care of each other.”
Tackling issues such as education, kupuna care and employee benefits, the law-maker, who took office in 2010 to represent the South Shore and Westside, has since used the learning curve to her advantage: first by taking a step back and observing, and second by showing the world she’s not one to shy away from standing on her own.
“It’s no secret that I wasn’t part of the majority party when I came on,” she says. “I wanted to be myself – I didn’t want to be committed to one group. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions.”
Not a fish to follow the stream, perhaps that’s part of why her campaign logo was a moi (that and the fact that she has a love of shoreline fishing).
However, thinking for oneself still means understanding the value of working together.
“You have to make the relationships,” she says. “You can’t just be independent. In the beginning that was tough, but when people start to learn about who you are, they understand. I told my colleagues, ‘That’s just me. I want to be able to say what I want to say when I want to say it.’ And I think I’ve gained a lot of respect because of it. You know, we’re all together in terms of putting the island first.”
Having introduced some 200-plus measures since taking office, Morikawa says one of most challenging lessons she’s learned firsthand is the process of creating – and passing – legislation.
“Bills and resolutions go through so many committees – so many people get their hands on them, and they can change or die easily.” Offering an example, Morikawa refers to HB 2251, a bill relating to elections on Kaua’i. She introduced the bill with the hope that Ni’ihau voters would be able to mail in ballots rather than have them flown over. “It was flying through committees, but when it got to the Maui side, they were worried about how it would apply to Kahoolawe, and were worried Moloka’i and Lanai (residents) wouldn’t be too happy about it because it could take away one of their polling places.” Though the measure could have saved “big bucks,” Morikawa adds, during its process it took on a different face, something that often happens.
“As long as the title is broad enough, you can make a bill anything,” she says. That’s how one of the teachers’ tax credit initiatives turned into a gambling bill, then an environmental bill. “It’s funny. One minute you have your name on something and then you yourself may end up trying to kill it so your name is not attached to something you’re not proud of. I’ve learned you’ve got to make sure the title is narrow enough so it can’t be tampered with.”
Morikawa was successful in passing HB 2254, a pretax transportation benefit that will allow certain jurisdictions of the state, including the counties, to establish a wage and salary reduction benefit program. It may be a small win, she says, but even “small savings help.” The program also means fewer cars on the road.
The vice chairwoman of the Health Committee also is proud of helping with two bills that became law this year: The first resulted in $1.5 million to be matched by private organizations to support services to perform kidney and liver transplants at Queen’s hospital, something vital because of the closure of Hawaii Medical Center. “This way Hawaii patients don’t have to fly to the Mainland for treatment,” she says. The second, HB 1964, limits out-of-pocket costs for cancer treatment under health insurance plans. With it, oral chemotherapy is provided at the same or lower amount as the kind that is intravenously administered.
A staple of the public sector for more than three decades – she spent a whopping 36 years with the county – Morikawa also is a fixture in the community. It was in her work with projects such as Hui O Laka, part of the Kokua Koke’e program led by Marsha Erikson and Brad Soria, that she saw Koke’e is no exception to the work that needs to be done to preserve the island.
“(Hui O Laka) gets volunteers into the forest to free native trees from invasive weeds,” Morikawa says, adding it’s her work with that project that helped her gain understanding of the importance of protecting Kaua’i watersheds, especially for future generations.
It’s with future generations in mind that Morikawa also has helped lead programs such as Communities Putting Prevention to Work, a statewide leadership team devoted to helping youths stay active. The former committee member of the American Youth Soccer Organization and Waimea Youth Baseball Association still keeps youth sports part of her life. Though she no longer coaches the Waimea High School golf team, she still can be spotted in her free time at Waimea High volleyball games against Kaua’i High (the latter of which is her alma mater). She also continues in her free time to promote Waimea’s Project Grad, which offers youths a safe outlet in which to celebrate graduation night.
Her own children are all grown up, and Morikawa beams with pride about her four sons: Kevin, Kelsey, Kollin and Ken Jr., all of whom are flourishing right here at home.
Kevin, 33, an equipment operator at Kekaha Landfill, is one of the employees who covers and shapes it. “He takes a lot of pride in the work he does,” she says. Son Kelsey, 27, “is the jack of all trades: An athlete and fisherman who loves the outdoors,” she adds, noting Kollin, 22, manages Keoki’s Restaurant. Morikawa’s youngest, Ken Jr., 19, is working his way through Kaua’i Community College on his own, and “makes a great sautéed furikake ahi.”
Having raised her sons “with nonstop sports” was an approach she and her husband of 29 years, Ken, also a former coach, thoroughly enjoyed.
“We were a sporty family,” she says. “We were always at the park.”
Enjoying the island with that kind of simple appreciation is part of what makes Morikawa not only a good mom, but also a good civic leader, according to son Kollin.
“She’s amazing because she’s understanding, caring, honest and humble,” he says. “And for well over 30 years, she’s developed a love and passion for helping others out whenever she can.”