Attorney General Sean Reyes began his second year in office and his first since facing voters in November. His inauguration speech set a tone of inclusiveness and cross-cultural depth, as well as a willingness to fight even tough battles when the cause is just.
It’s hard to make politics interesting to the average American. Let’s be honest: the only thing less interesting than listening to a politician drone on about taxes, budgets, treaties, and any number of other public policies is the dying art of watching paint dry.
Somehow, Attorney General Sean Reyes managed to raise the bar with a diverse inauguration ceremony that was replete with cultural presentations from around the world. From the thundering drums of the Ogden Buddhist Taiko Drummers and Salt Lake Polynesian Drummer that welcomed attendees before inauguration to the national anthem sung by the One Voice children’s choir, from a Filipino serenade by guitar played and sung by “Buddy” Reyes (Sean’s father) to the impressive classical guitar of Michael Lucarelli, the event was anything but ordinary.
And Reyes’ inauguration speech was no exception to the tone.
After opening with a long “ALOOOOO-HA,” Reyes delved into the “pillars” upon which he rests as a leader. Drawing on Polynesian folklore, his father’s protests against Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his mother’s high school principal experiences with tough students, and Spanish folk hero El Cid, not to mention Japanese Bushido warriors, Reyes’ speech took listeners around the globe.
After nods to the Constitution and patriotism and gratitude to many (including to his wife Saysha, who stopped the swearing-in when she noticed that Reyes had the wrong hand on the Bible), Reyes spent much of his time talking about his heritage and the “pillars” for what he believes, beginning with his parents. Reyes cited his father — who sang the song ““Magtaning Ay De Biro,” about a Filipino farmer working in the fields who left the Philippians after threats on his life by Ferdinand Marcos’ government — as an example of faith, self-reliance, and integrity in building success in America. His mother, Annette Maeda Reyes, was a high school counselor, Dean and Assistant Principal, and eventually Principal for two decades in inner city Los Angelas while Reyes was growing up, taught him respect, hard work and sacrifice.
“She taught me even if you are treated unfairly, or there are unfortunate situations outside your control, keep your head down, work hard, and let your actions and substance be your mouthpiece,” said Reyes.
With Spanish and Filipino ancestors on his father’s side and Native Hawaiian and Japanese ancestry from his mother, Reyes is, as one friend put it to him, a “Heinz 57 mutt” — a broad cultural heritage that Reyes is clearly proud of.
He recounted a story about Ramon Magsaysay, one time President of the Philippines and his grandfather’s cousin, who because of his compassion and respect for peasants, survived a near assassination attempt when the assassin guiltily revealed himself to Magsaysay and instead become one of his guards. “This kind of love, sacrifice and caring is transformative. It is the love that can unify the strongest enemies–that can transcend political divides,” said Reyes.
Reyes also spoke of the Spanish hero known as El Cid, a Castilian nobleman from the 11th century. For standing up to a corrupt king, El Cid was banished and fled with his knights and many noblemen to the woods, where they defended Spain from invaders. Reyes noted that El Cid accepted and defended Muslims and Christians alike, leading a pluralistic society. Then, referring to his office:
We have spent a year returning integrity to the highest levels of the AGs office. And that is my vision, that we can have the integrity of El Cid, to continue to make decisions not based on what is politically convenient or personally advantageous, but what is right under the law.
And in that process, we may have to challenge the king, speak to power, make calls or decisions that may be unpopular in the pursuit of our duty and the law.
And what if that challenge is an uphill battle? At times, Reyes seemed to view himself and his office as the underdog, including as he shared a Hawaiian story about the Great Puhi, beaten by two small limpets (tiny sea creatures with shells that cling to the rocks called “Opihi” by Hawaiians) when it kidnapped a young boy. Even the great can be beaten, he seemed to be saying, by the very small who are willing to fight.
As Reyes enters his second year in office and his first since facing the electorate, it’s a fitting message to define his term.
Even with technology advances we are making in the AG’s office and even though we instituted the first salary raises this office has seen in the last ten years, we will never have the resources of private firms.
In many instances, we are outgunned, outmanned and outspent in lawsuits. But like the Opihi, we utilize our advantages and find ways to win against the odds.
Unity means in the AG’s office, we emphasize everyone is a key contributor from the executive team to the summer interns. If one person fails, we all do. We work together to win and any success is the team’s. Everyone has a purpose.
APROPOS: Reyes’ noted that the hard costs for the inauguration event were paid for by himself, his campaign, or by supporters, not by the state.