Adam Schrager: Honorary Japanese American

Erin and I attended a talk and book signing with 9News Political reporter Adam Schrager last night, and introduced him to her folks. It was the second time we’ve seen Adam speak since the publication of “The Principled Politician.” This talk was held at Simpson United Methodist Church, which serves the Japanese American community, and it was sponsored by various area Japanese and Japanese American organizations, including the Denver Buddhist Temple, Japanese Association and the JACL’s Mile-Hi chapter.

This was the first time Schrager spoke to a hometown crowd of JAs. Back on Feb. 19 — the Day of Remembrance, a date Schrager purposefully sought out for his first book signing at the Tattered Cover bookstore — the crowd was mostly non-Japanese, with a definite emphasis on Denver media and politicos (Mayor Hickenlooper made it). Since then, Schrager has spoken at the Japanese American National Museum in LA, but here in Denver, his appearances have been on the bookstore circuit. So he admitted during the Q&A when Erin asked him, that talking about his book to an almost all-JA crowd was “intimidating.”

He didn’t act it. Looking his usual boyish self, and speaking with an impassioned conviction, the tall, lanky Schrager reminded me of the young Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 Frank Capra film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” By the time he finished and everyone convened downstairs for surprisingly good food from Japon and a long line of people buying his book and getting personalized autographs, Schrager had been accepted as an honorary Japanese American.

The book is a look at a forgotten politician who, as Schrager explains, embodied all the characters that we seek in politicians today, but find sorely lacking.

Ralph Carr was a fast-rising star in the Republican Party during the late 1930s. A small-town lawyer who built his reputation on states’ rights and water issues — in Colorado, an important topic then as now — Carr was on a fast track to national office, and was even offered a spot on the GOP slate as a vice presidential candidate in 1940. He turned the offer down to remain governor of Colorado, a position he had won by promising to reorganize state government and revitalize the state’s economy.

His national profile was besmirched, though, when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941, and his political career effectively ended on Feb. 19, 1941 when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the rounding up and imprisonment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into concentration camps throughout interior states in the Western U.S. and Arkansas, including one, Camp Amache, in southwest Colorado.

Carr, a devout believer of the U.S. Constitution who held Abraham Lincoln as his ultimate hero, did the unthinkable: He stood up for the rights of American citizens even if they were of Japanese heritage. During a time when America was afraid that rampant Japanese spying had helped the attack on Pearl Harbor, and that Japanese Americans would side with Japan and help in attacks against the West Coast, Carr invited Japanese Americans to move to Colorado. He fought against the imprisonment of JAs, citing the Constitution (more half of those interned were U.S. citizens by birth; half again of those were mere children).

He fought despite a mountain of mail and angry phone calls (Schrager points out in one of his many insightful observations that Carr had his home phone number listed, so that “hardworking Americans” could reach him at night) that expressed deep-rooted racial hatred, ignorance and fear.

And, later in 1940, when he ran for another term, he lost — albeit by a very slight margin. He never got the chance to regain his political luster. Carr died in 1950 while trying to win back the governor’s mansion.

Today, a bust of Carr stands at the Colorado Capitol, and another at Sakura Square in downtown Denver. The Colorado legilstaure recently voted unanimously to name U.S. Highway 285 after Carr, and then added the honor of naming the new Colorado State Supreme Court building after him.

Thanks in part to Schrager’s biography, the forgotten governor is finally being remembered again. Watch for his name to be mentioned at the National Democratic Convention this summer, in spite of his Republican alignment. Rep. Mike Honda of California was interned at Amache in Colorado when he was a child, and he knows that Carr was the only politician with the principles to fight the injustice of his family incarceration. The final chapter in this book hasn’t quite been written yet.

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  1. on December 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm