U.S. Senate candidate has Hawai'i roots
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama, who made national news this week with his victory in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, is also a local boy from Hawai'i.
He has drawn national attention because Democrats consider the Illinois Senate seat he is seeking as key to the party regaining control of the closely divided Senate. Also, if he wins, Obama would be just the third black U.S. senator in a century.
He will face millionaire Jack Ryan, the Republican nominee, in November.
Obama, 42, could not be immediately reached for comment yesterday. He attended Punahou from 1971 to 1979. His campaign press secretary, Pam Smith, said Obama and his family spend every Christmas in Hawai'i, where his grandmother and sister still live.
"I know he loves to go back there," she said. "He still has fond memories."
The staff and faculty at Punahou are excited to see him do well, said Laurel Bowers Husain, Punahou's director of development and communications.
"I think everybody's just so proud of him and just so pleased," she said, adding that people remember him as a friendly, lively, bright person who liked to have fun. "You really get excited when you see somebody who's done what he's done with a real commitment to the community."
Husain said Obama played on the varsity basketball team and participated in the high school arts magazine.
John Kamana III, a former all-state athlete at Punahou and Obama's basketball teammate, called Obama "just an all-around good guy" who contributed to the team's state championship in 1979.
In an article for the fall 1999 Punahou Bulletin, a quarterly magazine mailed to parents and alumni, Obama writes that he is lucky to have been raised here. His black African father and his white mother, who both graduated from the University of Hawai'i, were able to marry in part, he said, because "Hawai'i was as close as America got to being the world's mythical melting pot."
"Hawai'i's spirit of tolerance might not have been perfect or complete, but it was and is real," he wrote. "The opportunity that Hawai'i offered to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear."
Obama was raised primarily by his mother and grandparents at their home on Beretania Street and lived in Indonesia for a few years as a child before returning to Hawai'i.
Obama graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. He was first elected to the Illinois state Senate in 1996.
He and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at email@example.com or at 525-8070.