Ceremony cold, words warming

Mauians attending the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on Monday endured the chill of winter, to which they are unaccustomed, but were warmed by the words of the American president born in the islands.

Back in warm Hawaii, Maui’s newest state House member, said to be one of the first African-Americans in the chamber, marched in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade on Oahu.

Justin Woodson, who is mostly African-American but part Native American, said Monday afternoon that it was “significant for me” that an African-American was taking the oath of office for a second time but that his actions as president meant more to him.

“What is more important . . . is what he can do and what he has done,” Woodson said, adding that he was unable to watch the inauguration because he was in transit to Oahu.

Woodson, who was appointed last week to fill the open seat in Central Maui, cited the Race to the Top educational incentive program, renewable energy and the health care overhaul as some of the key areas of accomplishment for Obama.

“The way he (Obama) approaches things is the way we approach things here, more collectivism and give people opportunities,” said Woodson, adding that he believes that the president’s approach is “largely attributed to being a Hawaii boy.”

In the nation’s capital Monday, the “Hawaii boy” was inaugurated for a second term on a stage built on the steps fronting the nation’s Capitol. A parade from the Capitol to the White House followed, and there were two inaugural balls in the evening.

Yuki Lei Sugimura of Kula, who attended Obama’s first inauguration four years ago, said that the second one – with temperatures in the 40s – was much warmer than the first one’s 10 degrees, but it was “still cold for us Hawaii people.”

The Maui liaison for Sen. Mazie Hirono said that she stood in a preferred area but her view of the stage was blocked by trees. She watched the president’s speech from a jumbotron but could hear him clearly.

“The president spoke to us as everyday people . . . to make a difference,” Sugimura said. “What a great experience it was. I’m inspired.”

She obtained two tickets for one of the two inaugural balls Monday night but chose to give them to her son, Michael, and his guest, whom she called “the next generation.”

“It’s his generation to carry on,” she said in explaining why she gave the tickets to them.

At about the same time that Sugimura left her hotel for the inauguration at 6 a.m., Kauanoe Batangan was doing the same from his home in Washington. The Kamehameha Schools Maui and recent Stanford University graduate is a congressional aide on Capitol Hill.

Tickets for seating and standing were being handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, and there were no assigned seats, he said.

Obama’s speech was the highlight of the morning, said Batangan, who hails from Kahului.

“Any time Obama speaks, he’s pretty moving,” Batangan said by phone Monday afternoon. “This one was pretty inspirational in that I thought he delivered it well in the big moment.”

Batangan stayed for the music by Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce, then left. There was no energy left to attend the parade.

“I was cold,” he said. “I had been there for seven hours. I was tired and hungry.”

The 23-year-old said that he’s not sure he would attend another inauguration and fight the crowds, but Obama made this one special.

“To me, Obama is worth it,” said Batangan. “He is a local boy. . . . It was definitely worth it for me.”

Council Member Riki Hokama also felt that attending the Obama inaugural was well worth the hassles and the cold.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” the council member said Monday evening, noting that he was attending his first presidential inauguration.

The festivities began Saturday for Hokama with the Presidential Center Inaugural Gala, which included Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa and many members of Hawaii’s congressional and state legislative delegation. The gala event was part of an effort to build an Obama Presidential Library on Oahu.

The mayor was in Washington to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“Gun control legislation was what everyone was talking about,” Arakawa said, adding that renewable energy, marine wetlands and trade with Asian countries were the other topics on everyone’s radar.

The mayor and his wife, Ann, did not stay for the Inauguration Day events, leaving Washington on Sunday.

Hokama will flying back to the islands today but will be returning soon to Washington in his capacity as second vice president of the National Association of Counties. He and other members are scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner.

Security was very tight for inaugural events, a reality of the post-9/11 society, Hokama said. That was one of the factors that led to gridlock, where his cab did not move for 10 minutes.

“If you walked, it was faster, but you had to deal with the cold,” he said.

Hokama said he got pretty close to the main stage, in the “blue section” close to the steps before hitting the Capitol in a section in front of the Reflection Pool. The council member said that he enjoyed the president’s speech.

“His focus on we the people, speaking as one nation was very meaningful for me,” he said.

After about halfway through the ceremonies, Hokama had to go inside with feet frozen and ears tingling, he said.

He later ventured out to see the inaugural parade and watched for “as long as I could.” There was “a Hawaii flavor” to the parade that “made people like me feel very proud,” he said.

“I can say I’ve enjoyed the experience . . . and am honored to represent Maui County,” Hokama said.

“I can say we’ve got a great president.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.