David Pendleton: Dialogue with an Adventist in the Hawaii House of Representatives

Representative David Pendleton, 31, has been recognized as an “up-and-coming” player in the Hawaiian political arena. A Seventh-day Adventist since childhood, he made the leap into politics in 1996 when he ran for the State House of Representatives. Soon after his election, his Republican colleagues recognized his stand for principled leadership and selected him to be the minority whip in 1997, making him the youngest legislator and the only freshman to hold this leadership post. A committed Christian, Representative Pendleton had served as a school teacher and youth pastor as well as Associate Dean of Students at La Sierra University before returning to Hawaii to practice law and run for office.

His wife, Noemi Pendleton, also an elected official, serves on the Hawaii State Board of Education. They have two children, Roland and Raquelle, and are active members of the Manoa Seventh-day Adventist Church, Honolulu.

What interested you in becoming an attorney and eventually an elected official?

No single event or experience made me decide along that line. Instead, through the course of my life, a number of events, people, and experiences gradually moved me in that direction. My involvement in community service and leadership goes all the way back to preschool when I was the milk monitor. I also spent many hours volunteering in shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, and at the Adventist hospital in Hawaii. Later, I volunteered for various political campaigns, including a senate campaign and President Bush’s re-election campaign. All these experiences led me to where I am today.

Did you face any major obstacles when you decided to jump into politics?

Yes, a few. When I returned to Hawaii in 1995 after being on the mainland for several years, and began campaigning in 1996, it took a court action to prove my residence eligibility. There were also financial challenges. The incumbent’s father was an experienced fundraiser and could raise more than I could. So instead of hiring expensive professional consultants, I ran a grass-roots campaign. Volunteers made it possible for us to put all of our money into advertising that actually reached the voters through direct mail, radio time, and newspaper advertising.

As a legislator, what is the main focus of your service to the community?

My number one job is to make sure that good laws are passed and bad ones are defeated. As legislators, we have the responsibility of developing and passing statewide policies that make Hawaii a better place to live, work, and serve. My focus has basically been fivefold: fighting crime, cutting taxes, eliminating government waste, protecting the environment, and supporting education.

In my district, I’m working to make sure that our schools are safe environments for learning. I also want to ensure that governmental services are carried out efficiently: potholes are fixed, stoplights are working, and crosswalks are repainted. These are not glamorous things, but very important to people.

Many Adventists believe that people waiting for Christ’s return should not spend their time getting involved in politics. How do you react?

Jesus commanded us to “occupy” until He comes. As Christians, we are not to lead passive lives, but be active participants. As Micah wrote, we should be doing good, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Public service provides an opportunity to do these kinds of service in the community. With the stroke of a pen, we can help set up a domestic violence abuse shelter, toughen sentences on child abusers, feed homeless people, and improve the economy. It’s an important way to serve our fellow human beings.

How would you encourage other Christians to get involved?

Christians should get involved in public service at all levels, be it church, school, community, or government. Show that you care, whether it be picking trash or volunteering at the local library. Every citizen needs to be involved in the business of making public policy. This task is too large and important to leave to politicians alone. The challenge of how we should govern ourselves as a society is for everybody, not just an elite, elected few.

I would urge those who are so inclined to run for office. If working on a neighborhood board or being involved in public policy has been helpful and enjoyable, you ought to think about running for office. We need more citizen legislators rather than career politicians—hardworking men and women with a burden for schools, neighborhoods, and the environment. Public office is not about who is the most articulate, but who really feels passionate about doing good. It’s not about who can raise the most money; it’s about who really has a heart for service.

We are often encouraged to write to our legislators about issues that concern us. Do legislators really read these letters? How effective is this communication?

I read every single piece of mail that comes to my office, and I respond directly to every letter. If people writing to me allude to the fact that they have expertise in a particular area, I’ll often ask them a few specific questions because it is important for me to have as much information as possible in order to make the right decision.

I would strongly urge you to continue to E-mail, fax, or write to your legislators on specific issues. Make sure you let them know why you’re interested and why they need to respond to your concern. If you’re a registered voter, let them know. If you have specific background or training in the area of concern, share with them. Let them know that you’re concerned, you’re involved, and that you’re a reasonable person who can actually help them do their job better.

Who have influenced you the most?

Undoubtedly, my parents. Their exemplary life and Christian lifestyle greatly influenced me. They were always involved in the church, working with homeless shelters, Pathfinders, and Sabbath school. Then I have my teachers at La Sierra University. Rennie Schoepflin, professor of history, and Richard Rice, professor of theology, really influenced my thinking. They taught me to think through issues very carefully and develop arguments that were closely reasoned. They emphasized how important it is to recognize both the pros and cons before jumping to any conclusion. History teaches us that we have had the same basic problems, such as crime, gang violence, and poverty, since the beginning of humankind all the way from Cain. That perspective has been extremely valuable to me.

How do you balance your work as a legislator with your personal life?

It’s easier to preach family values than to live them. I got involved in politics because I wanted to build a better Hawaii for my children. Unfortunately, I find that the constant activity the committee meetings, the hearings, the town meetings often requires me to be away from home more than I want to.

It is very important to have a healthy family life, so we always try to have at least one meal together every day. Whenever I get a chance, I drop by my son’s school for lunch. At night, we always spend some time doing homework together. On weekends, we spend a lot of time together. As a Seventh-day Adventist, I have the greatest excuse for not doing any legislative work one day a week. From Friday night through Saturday night, I’m with my family, and everyone knows it. Committee chairmen know that I’m not going to show up on Sabbath, so I don’t feel any pressure. It helps keep things in balance.

In spite of all the activity, we always find time to have family worship every night. It’s important for our kids to hear the Bible stories, not just from Sabbath school teachers, but also from us. They need to see how important God is to us from our actions. Sharing my faith with the kids is a very important form of ministry. Going through Our Little Friend and the lesson interests them in religious things, and teaches them to enjoy studying the Bible. Looking back at my childhood, family worship times are some of the most memorable, and I hope to pass these moments onto my children.

What are your future goals?

Some people ask if it is possible to be successful in politics when you’re a maverick who is always trying to reform the system. I suppose they think of success as moving on to the Senate or becoming governor, but I have a simple response: I’m going to strive to be as successful as God wants me to be, and certainly no less. As long as I’m where God wants me to be, that’s fine with me. I will just do my best, session by session, election by election, and leave the rest to God. It’s a tremendously refreshing approach because it gives you a sense of freedom knowing that God is working in your life. I suppose Joseph had second thoughts when he had done everything right in Potiphar’s home and yet landed in prison. Daniel had a similar story. But as we can see from these stories, God is always at work. I don’t know if a person can be the kind of legislator I’ve tried to be and make it at the state or national level. We just have to let history unfold.

Interview by Michael Peabody. Michael Peabody is a student of law at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California. His address: Pepperdine University; 24255 Pacific Coast Highway #41; Malibu, California 90263-0041; U.S.A. E-mail: mike@i-empire.com Representative David Pendleton’s address: Office of Minority Whip; State Capitol, Room 327; Honolulu, Hawaii 96813; U.S.A. E-mail: reppendleton@capitol. hawaii.gov