Former Republican state Sen. Sam Slom, 81, who was sometimes the only GOP member in the state Senate during his 20-year tenure, died in an Oahu hospital Sunday at noon following an illness, according to fellow Republican Rep. Gene Ward.
Ward said Slom earned the nickname the “lone ranger” when serving as the state’s only Republican senator, essentially making him during those times the minority leader, the GOP floor leader, and the top-ranking Republican on every Senate committee.
“He was the only guy who defended the faith in the Senate for almost a decade. He kept the Republican brand alive in the Senate, and he was the ‘lone ranger’ for at least half of the time. He is going to be dearly missed. He is like a brother to me,” Ward said.
Slom, who was originally from Allentown, Pa., served in the Hawaii Senate from 1996 to 2016 when he lost his bid for a sixth term as the senator representing East Honolulu from Hawaii Kai to Kahala and Diamond Head to former Honolulu Councilman Stanley Chang, a Democrat who still holds the seat. Slom’s comeback attempt against Chang stalled in 2020.
“He strongly believed in what he believed in, otherwise for pragmatism, he would have been a Democrat like there are many who are doing that because it’s easier to get elected,” Ward said. “Sam was true to his word and he was a great encouragement to a lot of younger people. He endorsed a lot of candidates. He was a game changer. He will long be remembered for his presence, his words, and his encouragement.”
There are currently two Republicans, Sen. Brenton Awa and Sen. Kurt Fevella, serving in the 25-member state Senate. There are six Republicans serving in the state House, including Ward, David Alcos III, Rep. Diamond Garcia, Rep. Lauren Matsumoto, Rep. Elijah Pierick, and Rep. Kanani Souza.
Former Sen. Fred Hemmings, who served with Slom as a fellow Republican in the state Legislature, expressed his grief, and said Slom’s death is a “loss to the political culture of Hawaii.”
“Sam was a man of great stature and a man who never compromised his principles for convenience,” said Hemmings, who recalled that the Democrats were “extremely partisan and very seldom would they hear and almost never would they pass any Republican legislation in a session. Out of 800 bills that would pass maybe two or three Republican (bills) would pass and that was at the most.”
Hemmings recalls how hard Slom worked and said the two enjoyed being the “loyal opposition” and going after corruption.
Ward said that his ties to Slom go back to when Slom was serving as executive director of Small Business Hawaii. Slom, whose political focus often leaned toward restoring Hawaii’s economy while lowering the cost of living, also had work ties to the Tax Foundation Of Hawaii, Bank of Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific University and SMS Consultants.
Ward and others, including Steve Lipscomb, Honolulu County chairperson for the Republican Party, recall that in addition to his business acumen, Slom was a gifted orator.
“He could speak like (Abraham) Lincoln or (Frederick) Douglass — the great orators of America. His opening day speeches were always the most lofty of oratory,” Ward said.
Lipscomb, who served as Slom’s 2020 campaign manager, said he “literally fell in love with the guy. He was just an amazing person. He could speak instantly and convincingly on any topic.”
Lipscomb recalls that Slom “read every bill. He had to. He was on every subcommittee.”
Married and twice divorced, Slom has four grown sons. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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