ROBERT T. MATSUI first campaigned in 1978 for the congressional seat serving Sacramento, CA, persuading voters that he would bring to office ‘‘a new form of statesmanship.’’ Having entered the race as an underdog candidate, then-Vice Mayor MATSUI was carried to victory by a team of hundreds of committed volunteers. Through 26 years of service in the House of Representatives, Mr. MATSUI fulfilled his promise. He received accolades for bringing dedication, competence, innovation, and integrity to public service.
Mr. MATSUI was acknowledged for congressional accomplishment in service both to his district and to the Nation. With special concern for public safety in Sacramento, he drove a two-decade fight for safe levels of area flood control and secured Federal participation in the city’s transformation and growth during his congressional tenure. A senior member of the Committee on Ways and Means, Mr. MATSUI led the congressional fight to preserve Social Security until his death and also provided policy leadership on trade, tax, and social justice issues during a quarter century on the committee.
As the Democratic leader in the effort to preserve Social Security, Mr. MATSUI provided a strong public face and voice by standing sentry for the program. Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America called him ‘‘one of the few lawmakers in either party with a deep understanding of the complexities of the program.’’ As on tax and finance issues, Mr. MATSUI frequently traveled with detailed charts and graphs to explain the nuances of Federal budgeting, and he gained a reputation among both his congressional colleagues and his constituents for his thoughtful, intelligent, intellectually honest approach to Federal fiscal policy. He was part of the Ways and Means Committee effort in 1986 that resulted in fundamental fairness reform of the Tax Code.
For his long-standing commitment to and achievement in free and open international trade, Mr. MATSUI was also viewed as an effective, strategic leader and one of the best vote counters in the House. While he served as acting chair of the Trade Subcommittee in 1993, President Clinton turned to him to lead one of the most heated congressional battles of the decade: the fight to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Working in concert with Republicans and Democrats, Mr. MATSUI was a driver in enacting this keystone of modern American trade policy. He also spearheaded successful bipartisan efforts to gain congressional approval of the Uruguay Round Agreements, which led to the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the 2000 approval of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China.
The first two bills Mr. MATSUI introduced in Congress sought to strengthen enforcement of child support payments. He especially believed that all children in the United States should have guaranteed access to health care, and he drafted legislation in 1991 that became the backbone for child welfare reform, with its proposed expansion of the social services available to at-risk children and families in the child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice systems. In 1994, Mr. MATSUI was a leader in the fight over welfare changes. He argued that adequate job training and education programs were essential to helping parents achieve financial self-sufficiency without hurting the Nation’s disadvantaged children. He was part of a bipartisan team that introduced the CHILD Act in 1997, which ultimately became the basis for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
A third-generation Japanese American, Mr. MATSUI was 6 months old when he and his family were taken from Sacramento and interned by the U.S. Government at the Tule Lake Camp in 1942, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1988, Representative MATSUI helped shepherd the Japanese American redress act (Civil Liberties Act of 1988, P.L. 100–383) through Congress, by which the United States formally apologized for the World War II internment program and offered token compensation to victims. He was also instrumental in the designation of Manzanar, a wartime relocation center 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles, as a national historic site and in obtaining land near the National Mall in Washington, DC, for the memorial to Japanese American patriotism in World War II.
Mr. MATSUI was a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (A.B., 1963), and the University of California, Hastings College of Law (J.D., 1966). He was inspired to enter the legal field by reading the autobiography of famed trial lawyer Clarence Darrow and to public service by President John F. Kennedy’s speech challenging Americans to ask what they could do for their country. He founded his own Sacramento law practice in 1967, won a seat on the Sacramento City Council in 1971, and became vice mayor of the city in 1977. In addition to his congressional service, Mr. MATSUI chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2004 election cycle and had previously served as treasurer and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. He was also a regent of the Smithsonian Institution from 1999 to 2005.
In 1966 he married Doris Okada, who served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Public Liaison for President Clinton and who was elected on March 8, 2005, to complete Mr. MATSUI’s 14th term of office and serve California’s Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is also survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Brian Robert Matsui and Amy Matsui, and by his grandchildren Anna and Robby Matsui.
Mr. MATSUI died on January 1, 2005, and is buried at East Lawn Memorial Park in his hometown of Sacramento, CA.
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- California State University Sacramento (CSUS) Legacy Project