Hawaiʻi State Legislator Representative Chris Lee
By: Megan Lucas
8 May 2019
“I was a really shy kid and I was terrified of speaking up,” said Rep. Chris Lee (D) in his most recent campaign video on Facebook. Fast forward 30 years and that shy young boy from Kailua is now the representative for Kailua and Waimanalo on the Windward side of Oʻahu.
The past 39 years have been quite the journey for him, but the accomplishments keep on stacking up. Chris Lee was hit by a car at an intersection near Kailua Beach when he was younger, and then suffered a stroke at age 30. “It made me realize that we don’t have a lot of time, I want to look back with no regrets knowing that I did everything I could to make a difference,” Lee said.
He said that he never imagined running for office and now he is giving up his chair in the house and running for State Senate. He is a laid back guy, with his visions for the islands and beyond. He was the youngest member and only millennial serving in the Hawaiʻi State Legislature when elected in November 2008.
In the last 12 years, Lee has worked hard to establish his presence in the house, he has introduced and passed many very successful bills. He was responsible for the reef-safe sunscreen law, putting repeat offense drunk drivers behind bars, putting millions of dollars into elementary schools air conditioning, and making a difference in the domestic issue topic in Hawaiʻi.
He was the lead politician for the same-sex marriage law in 2013 and even though he faced death threats for his work on it he was persistent, he said that “most of all it is standing up when it counts, and that means doing the right then even when they are going to come after you.”
He was instrumental in passing writing and passing a law making Hawaiʻi the first state to require all electricity to come from 100% renewable energy, and statewide carbon neutrality by 2045. This law is huge and may have been a turning point in his career, pushing him to new heights after he was endorsed by former President Barack Obama.
He walked into his office one morning in March, during a very busy time at the Capitol, and took the time to sit down and speak to local journalists. From the very beginning of his talk, you could just feel the amount of pride he has for the islands. “I’m a local boy, I don’t think I would ever leave,” he said when asked about pursuing office in another state.
I was born and raised here, and “I feel like I have to give back in a way, I didn’t have an easy childhood, so if I can make a difference in the life of just one local kid I have done my job,” Lee said.
I asked him what bills he is most proud of during his time in office and he said the same-sex marriage law since it was so mentally and emotionally draining and he was often threatened and asked if he was gay during the time when he was advocating for it.
He said, “One of the most annoying things was being asked if I was gay, just because I was in support of this very important measure, the renewable energy law, and all of the work he has done for schools since that hits home for him.
For a local boy who never expected to even speak in front of people, Chris Lee has made quite a name for himself. He was named national "Best Policymaker" by the US Green Building Council Center for Green Schools. Lee says, “you don’t know what you’re capable of until you go out and do it.”
He gave a few words of advice to our capstone journalism class before he ran off to a busy day of hearings and meetings and made sure that we knew how and where to reach him in the future. He is a man of his word and is focused on making Hawaiʻi a place that people feel proud to call home.