Long time legislator Robert Herkes has died at the age of 83.
The former Democratic member of the Hawaii House of Representatives, represented District 5 on Hawaii Island since 1992. Previous to winning a state House seat, Herkes appointed to the Hawaii State Senate in 1988, and served on the Hawaii City Council in 1984.
“Bob was man who always had Hawaii’s interest at heart. That is how he will be remembered,” said political strategist David Wilson, founder of McNeil Wilson Communications.
One of Herkes’ most memorable contributions to his community was when he hosted a benefit for Red Cross Relief Efforts in Hawaii on April 13, 2011, to raise money for victims of the March 2011 tsunami that displaced local families and caused an estimated $30 million in damage.
“Relief efforts need to start at home,” Herkes said in an April 2011 statement. “It’s wonderful how Hawaii’s community has banded together to support Japan and other communities around the world in recent and past year’s natural disasters. That should continue, but at the same time we also must remember and support our neighbors here in the Islands, as the Red Cross responds to disasters in Hawai‘i about every four days.”
Herkes was known for his advocacy for small business. He owned and operated two restaurants on Hawaii Island, one in Hilo and one in Kona, and was a partner in a number of other small businesses.
Herkes was a member of several small business organizations, including the Hawaii Hotel Association, Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, and Masonic Lodge. He also served as Director of Marketing for the Kamehameha Investment Corporation.
During his 16 years in the House, Herkes advocated for the legalization of gambling and marijuana and an appointed rather than elected public school board. He also sought to cut Hawaii’s 17,000 pages of rules and regulations that burdened local business owners.
Herkes told the Big Island Chronicle in 2012 he had a “solid record of getting things done for the people”, and shared the background on the legislation he was most proud of: “I co-authored Act 48, a mortgage foreclosure law that takes on offshore banks; stopping them from abusing local homeowners. Since it was passed, foreclosures are down 52%, keeping many families in their homes. I also expedited construction of the Kea’au by-pass, got water for Ocean View, fought for the preservation of historic sites, funded a disaster shelter and gym for the Pahala school complex as well as a mobile medical van to bring basic medical services to rural areas.”
Hawaii lobbyist John Radcliffe knew Herkes well. “In order to be a legislator, all one has to do is be popular enough to get elected. It takes no particular other talent. To be a good legislator, one has to understand the issues, the ideologies of the people, the equities involved, and so forth. To be a great legislator, and there are a precious few, one has to know all of the above and be a master of the legislative process. Anybody that ever went into a conference committee with Bob Herkes knew that they were in the presence of a master,” Radcliffe said.
“His presence has been sorely missed in the legislature these past two years. But his legacy lives on. Everyone in Hawaii with insurance is in Bob’s debt. He was a consumer advocate, bar none. Everyone with a mortgage is better protected today because of Bob’s work on their behalf. His body of work in the legislature is his legacy,” Radcliffe added.
After 16 years in the Hawaii State House, Herkes ran for state Senate in 2012, but was defeated.
Herkes was born in Iloilo, Philippines. Herkes leaves behind his wife Jo-Anna, and three children, Bobby, Kenny and Doug.