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The Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga Papers


About Sparky Matsunaga (1916-1990)

Spark Matsunaga

Masayuki Matsunaga was born on the island of Kauai in 1916 to a modest farm family. After working his way through college and graduating in 1941, he voluntarily joined the U.S. Army. After World War II started, he served in the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, got wounded twice, and was awarded the Bronze Star. (At that point, he legally changed his name to "Spark" Masayuki Matsunaga, taken from his childhood nickname based on a cartoon character.) He then earned a law degree from Harvard, was an assistant public prosecutor in Honolulu, and served in the Hawaii Territorial Legislature from 1954-1959. His position as House Majority Leader in the last year enabled him to play a major role in securing statehood for Hawaii. From 1954-1963 he was also in private law practice.

In 1962 Matsunaga was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served through 1976. He was a powerful member of the influential Rules Committee; House Majority Leader Hale Boggs quipped, "It's getting to the point where you have to see Sparky Matsunaga to get a bill passed around here." Using this committee experience, he co-authored the book Rulemakers of the House, published in 1976. For all 14 years in the House he was also Deputy Majority Whip. Membership on the Agriculture Committee allowed him to be a leading force in the passage of the 1971 Sugar Act that greatly benefited Hawaii's sugar industry.

In 1976 Matsunaga was elected to the U.S. Senate and was Chief Deputy Whip for 12 of his 14 years there. He was instrumental in passing legislation for civil rights; reparations for Japanese Americans interned during World War II; space exploration; renewable energy resources; and peace, the latter resulting in the establishment of the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C. In 1986 his book The Mars Project: Journeys Beyond the Cold War was published. Senator Matsunaga's vote tipping the balance in electing Sen. Robert Byrd as majority leader earned him membership on the Finance Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Aside from being an accomplished harmonica player, Spark Matsunaga was an avid poet, piloting legislation that led to the creation of the U.S. Poet Laureate position at the Library of Congress. He died in 1990 at the age of 73. Shortly thereafter, the Institute for Peace at the University of Hawaii at Manoa was renamed the Matsunaga Institute for Peace.

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