Our foundations have held

Congressman Ed Case ’70 reflects on life and work in Washington

In early June 1975, just days after graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, U.S. Congressman Ed Case ’70 found himself in Washington, D.C. “I went to Capitol Hill as a fluke,” Case recalls, “trying to kill time while I decided what to do with the rest of my life. I was thinking of working out West or on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and took a summer internship while I sorted it all out.” Case spent the next three years as legislative assistant to Spark Matsunaga, who served as Hawai‘i’s U.S. Representative and then Senator. “I loved it from the start,” he says.

Case was born and raised in Hilo, and came to HPA in seventh grade in 1965. “And I can tell you exactly where I was when I first saw Audrey,” he says, speaking of the woman he would later marry in Davies Chapel, classmate Audrey Nakamura ’70. “It was the classroom just on the right of the flagpole, facing the football field. Mr. Frazier was the teacher. Math. It was 7:45 in the morning,” he says wistfully. “September of a long, long time ago.”

It was the very first class on his very first day at HPA, and he was smitten from the beginning. “There were 12 boys and four girls in seventh grade,” he recalls. “In the whole school, there were maybe 200 boys and 20 girls. My chances were poor.” Case says he pined over Audrey for two years, but they ultimately went on to other lives. They reconnected at their 30th Reunion, and have now been married for 20 years.

Today, Case splits his time across six time zones and 5,000 miles, from his home in Kāneʻohe to Washington, D.C. When we ask if he can walk us through the inner workings of Congress, he urges us to reach out to another HPA alum, Kainan Miranda ’13, who is now on Case’s staff. “If you want to find out what really happens in Congress,” Case demurs, “ask him—not me.”

But Case knows a thing or two about serving Hawai‘i in the U.S. House of Representatives, particularly now, on his third tour of duty. (Besides his three years with Senator Matsunaga, he served Hawaii in Congress from 2002 to 2007, and now since 2019).

“What I love the most about my job,” he says, “is helping the folks I serve.” The COVID-19 pandemic, while opening the levels of digital communication, has left Case largely without day-to-day personal interaction with his constituents. “I desperately miss that. There’s no replacing it.”

While Case and the rest of the world wait for the time when we can again gather safely together, he has enough work to keep him busy. Case serves on two key House committees: the Appropriations Committee, which is the oldest committee in Congress and is responsible for allocating some $1.4 trillion of federal funding annually (in addition to trillions in COVID-19 assistance); and the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over all public lands and natural resources, including water, oceans, and wildlife, along with Native Hawaiians. Case sees these committees as ideal platforms from which to both lead our country and help Hawai‘i, and he remains moved by the responsibilities he holds as well as the weight of history he feels daily within such a venerated institution.

“Even today, after literally thousands of times, it is incredibly humbling to walk into the House chamber with all of the history and ceremony and protocols that have kept our country grounded for hundreds of years.” There are times when Case is delegated with presiding over House business from the rostrum of the Speaker. “To my right is a portrait of Washington, and to my left is Lafayette. Immediately below me is where FDR gave his famous speech at the beginning of World War II. It is the very place where so many transformational debates and historic votes have shaped our country and our world,” he reflects. “The weight of history and responsibility gets you every time.”

Case was on Capitol Hill on January 6th, when the Capitol was attacked. “The assault on the Capitol was more than just an attack on the physical structure and the people who serve there,” he reflects. “It is a living, breathing place, the very foundation of our democracy.” It was an attack on all of that … it was an attack on an idea.”

This year marks the 117th time that our country has convened Congress, dating back to the first years of the presidency of George Washington. Today, Case is especially grateful that the foundations have held, and of course, it isn’t all pomp and circumstance. “On a day to day basis,” Case levels, “sure—politics is a rough business. There are great frustrations and great disappointments.” But the only way to approach it, he says, is to be hopeful and stay focused on the big picture and his own role. “That’s a lesson from HPA. There was a sense of responsibility and respect … Values that I still carry.”