Political Science grad worked for ratification of the 26th Amendment
By Brian Hudgins
A very slim margin of defeat provided Rosalyn “Roz” Hester Baker (B.A. ’68) a view of the tools she needed for victory.
In 1986, the El Campo native had been a resident of Hawaii for six years. She and her husband, Vaughn, worked as small-business owners when Roz Baker decided to run for the state House of Representatives. She lost by six votes.
There was no lengthy recount. “I was bummed that I had lost, but it didn’t deter me,” Baker says. “I learned the importance of walking house to house and being part of organizations in the community.”
A Hawaii State Legislator for over 30 years, Baker represents the 6th Senate District. In her official biography, she cites the defining moment that sparked her interest in government: when she was a student at Texas State University and became involved in the movement to lower the voting age to 18. This would lead to a job with the National Education Association (NEA) in Washington, D.C., where she became chair of the Youth Franchise Coalition and later was named a government relations specialist. In July 1971 the 26th Amendment was ratified guaranteeing the vote to 18 year olds.
“I’m always a little disappointed when folks aren’t as passionate about civic engagement as I am. Voting and making your voice heard in that way is so important — we’ve just seen that playing out in our recent elections. Trying to keep segments of our communities from voting is so wrong,” Baker says.
Several years of running Wayfarer, a retail shop for visitors, and a women’s swimwear shop called Rosalyn’s, provided the couple with challenging new ventures. Becoming more established in the Maui community resulted in Baker winning the next time she ran for office. She served in the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1988-1993 before serving as the Senate majority leader in 1993 and 1995-1996.
Maui County is spread out over three inhabited islands and two uninhabited islands, the necessity of having both plane and ferry access created some unique challenges in 2020. “We had just upgraded our bandwidth into the state capitol (before COVID-19), so we were better situated to have people work remotely,” Baker says. “We were still able to have people participate. I don’t know what we would have done without that bandwidth.”
It was not Baker’s first experience dealing with a sudden work environment change. “The first day we opened a store in Kapalua, the pilots went on strike,” Baker says. “World happenings affect Hawaii in a big way. Pilots were on strike; no visitors were coming, and no tourist dollars were coming.”
Baker’s district includes the cities of Lahaina, Kapalua, and Wailea. The rural areas of the district support a variety of crops. “For a number of years, we had robust sugar fields,” Baker says. “Now a lot of those farmers are in coffee. We also have pineapple and some smaller vegetable farms.”
She does miss some things about her native state. “I still have some wonderful friends in that part of Texas, so I definitely miss them; of course, I miss the cuisine. The good Mexican food and barbecue (we have some here in Hawaii of course, but not quite the same), the bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and other wildflowers in the spring,” she says. In 1995 Baker was named a Texas State Distinguished Alumna.
She credits Texas State for providing an engaging environment that sharpened her communication skills. “I was there when LBJ was president,” Baker says. “I had great professors on the political science and government side. I was on the debate team. I did a lot with that and public speaking. It taught me how to do research and argue pros and cons.”
The Hawaii State Senate debates during the past year included the need to adjust the rules to accommodate health needs. Some members who had compromised immune systems or were taking care of others couldn’t afford to be in crowds.
Despite the challenges, Baker and her peers picked up knowledge that will be helpful the rest of this year and beyond. “Some lessons we learned about technology will be incorporated moving forward,” Baker says.