Islands push for Obama library
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
If state lawmakers and the University of Hawai'i have their way, the 50th State could soon be known as the home of the Barack Obama presidential library, in addition to sea, sun and surf.
A measure urging the president to choose his home state as the site of his presidential library passed the Senate Transportation, International and Intergovernmental Affairs committee yesterday and will go to the full Senate for a vote.
The measure also has the support of the state House.
"I think we're one of the top contenders," said Sen. J. Kalani English, D-6th (E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lāna'i). "It can be anywhere in Hawai'i."
Robert Perkinson, a UH professor of American studies, independently began working on a proposal to situate the library in the Islands as a way to boost the university's prestige.
"It's a huge opportunity to make UH more of a world-class institution than it already is," Perkinson said. "It would bring in top researchers, be a great opportunity for graduate students and human rights activists.
"It could provide inspiration to students and a great economic development opportunity."
Chicago, where Obama built his legal and political career, also is in contention for an Obama presidential library.
Presidential libraries are not libraries in the traditional sense, but are repositories that preserve and make available documents, artifacts, gifts of state and museum exhibits that relate to a former president's life and career.
Nineteen presidents have had a library established in their honor, including every president since Calvin Coolidge. The most visited presidential library, according to the National Archives, is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., with more than 400,000 visitors last year. The second most visited is the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, Calif.
A center usually is built with and run by private funding after an initial state investment of $2.5 million, Perkinson said. That money could come from the UH Foundation or private sources under the leadership of UH administrators.
"In this issue, it's quite easy to support," said Rep. K. Mark Takai, D-34th ('Aiea, Pearl City). "Both Democrats and Republicans realize that President Barack Obama is our president. He's Hawai'i's president. It's important to us to stake our claim. I think we have an opportunity here with the presidential library to be the hub, the bridge to Asia."