Discover Nikkei

Finding supporters for the bill

I wanted to make sure that we had prominent members of the Congress as... you know, if I dropped the bill in, people would say, "Oh, that's self-serving. Mineta's an internee, of course." So I didn't want us to be in the forefront on this thing. So I wanted to make sure that we had judiciary committee members who were going to be, who were going to be considering this bill in committee to be co-sponsors. And so we went through this whole thing very extensively.

And then I would call on various people to talk to them on a one-on-one basis about being a co-sponsor. And I went to this one congressman, a fellow by the name of Tom Kindness from Ohio, a member of the judiciary committee. "It's nice to have you here, Norm, what do you have for me?" So I tell him I've got this bill, and it has to do with forming a commission, go back through the whole issue of evacuation and internment.

He sort of looked off in the distance and he says, "Yeah, I remember hearing about it. In fact, my old boss somehow was involved in that." I said, "Really?" I said, "What did you do?" He said, "Well, I was in the General Counsel's office at International Paper Company in Ohio. But our Washington, our senior vice president of government affairs was headquartered in Washington, and I think he had something to do with it." I said, "Really?" I said, "What was his name?" And he said, "Karl Bendetsen." And I go, I thought to myself, "Oh, crap. Here's the guy who engineered the evacuation and was the SOB who put us in camp."

So I just folded up my papers and I said, "Tom, thank you very much for the time," and I walked out of there. And Glen and I were walking out, and we go, oh man. You talk about doing research and know who you're talking to about stuff, but we, boy, we didn't know a thing about it.

Date: July 4, 2008

Location: Colorado, US

Interviewer: Tom Ikeda

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

Norman Mineta was born on November 12, 1931 in San Jose, California. He and his family were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain internment camp during World War II.

He began his political career when he was appointed to a vacant San Jose City Council seat in San Jose and was elected to the seat the following term, followed by vice mayor and then becoming Mayor of San Jose in 1971.

Mineta served in the United States House of Representatives from 1975 to 1995 and was a key figure behind the passage of H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for and redressed the unconstitutional, mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

In 2000, he became the first Asian American to hold a post in the presidential cabinet when President Clinton appointed Mineta as his Secretary of Commerce. The following year, President George W. Bush appointed him Secretary of Transportation, the only Democrat in Bush's cabinet, where he served as the longest serving Secretary of Transportation since the position was created in 1967. (December 2011)


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