State senators reconvening for the first time in three months devoted much of their floor session today to speaking about their colleague, Breene Harimoto, who died last Thursday after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Several senators known for their tough or stoic personalities struggled to maintain their composure as they paid tribute, among them senators Kurt Fevella (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Moanalua-Halawa) and Karl Rhoads (D, Downtown-Nuuanu-Liliha).
Rhoads said he and Harimoto disagreed on practically every issue including the death with dignity bill that passed several years ago. Harimoto was one only two senators who voted against the highly emotional bill that Rhoads, as Judiciary chairman, pushed through.
Rhoads said that Harimoto conducted himself gracefully at the Capitol despite recognizing that his days were short. “If I can do it with the dignity that he did, I will be satisfied,” he said, choking back tears.
Harimoto, 66, was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer five years ago, something both Senate President Ron Kouchi and Kim mentioned in their comments.
Kouchi said the survival rate for many with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis do not live more than six months. “Breene was in the 3-5%,” Kouchi said.
“It’s clear that for the five years he continued to serve after the diagnosis that there was a bigger plan for him and contributions for him to make, and it’s also clear to me that he was here so long was because of his faith, which gave him the courage, the conviction and the strength to carry on.”
Kim, a political ally, said Harimoto spoke with her about the possibility of resigning his seat but that he felt he still had much to contribute to his community. When it appeared the medical treatments he was receiving were not working, he left it up to God to determine his fate.
“Breene was a very quiet warrior in the sense that he fought the fight … to the very end he believed that it would be in God’s hands,” Kim said.
Fevella, who said he was on the Ewa Neighborhood Board and Harimoto was on the Board of Education when they first met, credited his fallen colleague for saving the Ewa Beach Neighborhood Library. Fevella recalled it was Harimoto who quietly told him that the library was among the facilities on the budget chopping block.
“Ewa Beach wouldn’t have our library if it wasn’t for Breene,” Fevella said, news that took the then-neighborhood chairman by surprise since the facility served as both James Campbell High School’s and the growing Ewa Beach community’s library. That warning gave him and the community time to mobilize and rally at the Capitol to keep it alive, he said.
When he first was elected to the Senate two years ago, it was Harimoto who first showed up at his door and invited him to his own office for a chat, Fevella said. Even when Harimoto fell ill and people went to provide support to him, “he would always have words of encouragement … he always had something to encourage you by.”
Sen. Gil Riviere (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua) said “I think we all agree that Breene Harimoto was the nicest guy we’ve ever met — without a doubt, the most honorable, straightforward, reliable guy that we could count on … to him, decision making was easy because he knew the right thing and … he was willing to stand by his convictions. If we all could be try to be a little bit more like Breene, the world would be a better place.”
A moment of silence was also held in Harimoto’s honor at the end of today’s House session.
“We all know that he devoted his life and career to the service not only the people of Pearl City but the entire state of Hawaii,” said Rep. Gregg Takayama (D, Pearl City-Waimalu-Pacific Palisades). “And he did so even during the darkest hours of his illness here at the Capitol at his Senate desk.”