Mark Moses was a Mensch
by Jason Jones -- from Chairman’s New Years Message to Hawaii Republican Party
This week, Governor of Hawaii David Ige offered public condolences to a bereaved family and ordered that flags be flown at half-mast throughout the State. Former Hawaii State Representative Mark Moses has gone to his eternal reward.
These are the proper rituals to observe at the passing of a U.S. Marine, a tireless public servant, and a great man. But as I attended his funeral and offered my own sympathies to his wife and children, I couldn’t shake the feeling that so much more should be done in honor of Mark Moses’s legacy.
In my mid-twenties, I was looking for purpose and direction. I’d met a lot of good men in the military and I looked up to them, but they each had a disorienting mixture of virtues and flaws. I desperately needed a role-model, and I found one in Mark Moses.
He was the first complete man I’d come across. He was a man of stark practicality, but he cared deeply for his community. He was a civic-minded public figure, yet also a devoted family man. He was the very opposite of an ideologue—you couldn’t fit his positions neatly under Progressivism or Conservatism or any other capital-lettered “ism”—but there was nothing ambiguous about his worldview either.
If I had to sum him up in a word, it would be the word that to this day makes me think of him whenever I hear it: Mark Moses was a mensch. And it’s because he was a mensch that he lived up to his robustly Jewish surname, Moses.
When Mark was considering me for the role of Chief-of-Staff, he said to me, “I’m a city planner and you’re a visionary. Your head is in the clouds and mine is in the streets. We’ll make a good team.” It was a compliment that would stay with me during my time in his office—partly because it wasn’t flattery. For him, hiring a “visionary” to help him serve his district was every bit as practical as hiring a plumber to help fix a leaky faucet.
As a recent political science graduate, I was brimming with ideas—a lot of them good, but none of them tethered to the day-to-day realities of tending to the needs of the people in Hawaii House District 42.
He would patiently listen to me ramble on about political philosophy or religion. Then he’d laugh a good-natured laugh, brush my ideas aside, and bring the conversation back down to street names, stop sign locations, little league baseball fields, and school buildings.
He led by example, and I came to admire his unwavering, nose-to-the-grindstone attention to the simple worries of his community. “Rep. you’re a great politician,” I remember saying to him. “Why don’t you run for Mayor—or even Governor?” But he already had his work cut out for him in District 42, and he would never think of leaving it behind unfinished.
There was nothing abstract about his work. His mission was as primal and focused as the task of plowing a field to feed a family. He just wanted to see his community built up for his own family and others just like his. That's why he was so happy to be where he was, in the State House. He never looked up from his work, his community, and his family for long enough to get aspirations for higher office or for wider recognition or fame.
In fact, rather than try to outdo his would-be opponents (he was a Republican representative in a sea of Democrats), he worked hard at being respectful, honest, and cooperative with everyone in the community. He would often dispatch me to help out at various Democrats’ offices. “Jason, I’d like you to go and lend a hand at another office today. Get to know them, help them put their documents together for committee, and just be useful to them. They have more work to get done today than we do here.”
No Time for Dying When There’s Work to Do
20 years ago, I visited Mark Moses’s deathbed.
Decades before it finally took him, he was already battling Lupus. When I walked into his hospital room he asked me directly if I thought he was dying.
“Sir, I should call your family. I think you need to spend this time with them.”
After a pause, he chuckled weakly. “I’m not going to die,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Now get out those papers. We have a lot of bills to get through.” As I worked alongside him that night at Tripler Medical Center, it struck me how appropriate it was that this seemingly invincible man was called “Moses.”
Though Mark was a committed Jew, he never fancied himself a “visionary.” He didn’t see himself the bearer of some enlightened ideology. He was just another tribesman of District 42, with all the same reasons to flee Egypt as any other person—but with an added dose of responsibility to seek the promised land with care and competence.
He was the complete man, and his compass was intact.
The Promised Land
There’s an old phrase used to describe high-minded men who lack character and work-ethic: “The man is too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good.” Well, maybe what made Mark Moses a mensch was being so earthly-minded that Heaven couldn’t help but take notice and bless his endeavors.
Make no mistake: men like Mark Moses are the real visionaries. It’s just that their visions aren’t in the clouds, but imprinted here on earth, in the city streets that occupied Mark’s mind for all those years, in places like Kapolei where I now live. His vision wasn’t only hoped for, but worked for. And after all the devoted attention he and others like him paid to this community, to building proposals, parks, and schools, a vision has become a reality.
It’s no coincidence that Kapolei is now known as Oahu’s “Second City.” Mark was one of the driving forces behind this town becoming the fastest-growing urban center in the United States.
I used to chuckle a little at his scrupulous plans, his daily labors, his tireless efforts to gain resources—all for a city that didn’t really yet exist. But now my family and I live in a housing development in Kapolei that didn’t exist when I first worked with Mark. I drive my kids to karate and ballet classes at businesses that didn’t exist, on roads that didn’t exist. I do my writing and my research at a library that didn’t exist--the second-largest library in Hawaii!
I still can’t shake the feeling that so much more should be done to honor of my mentor’s legacy. We little leaguers, library-goers, and homeowners owe a debt to Mark Moses’s part in the world we live in, and it’s a debt that we can never repay.
But what we can do is keep ourselves grounded, and care deeply for our neighbors’ well-being, just like he did. Take advantage of the good groundwork that people like Mark Moses lay for us and our families, but do so gratefully and—most importantly—preserve it.
These are the proper rituals to observe at the passing of great men.