We’ve lost an ally on the Social Security front, one respected on both sides of the aisle. (AP):

Word of the death of Rep. Robert T. Matsui has prompted an outpouring of praises from Washington and California political figures, all honoring a former Japanese-American prisoner during World War II who went on to serve 26 years in Congress.

Matsui died of complications from a rare disease Saturday night at Bethesda Naval Hospital outside Washington, D.C., his family said Sunday. He was 63.

He also was the third-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he was his party’s point man on Social Security legislation.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called herself “shocked and despondent” over Matsui’s death, saying in a statement, “He has been part of my political life for more than 20 years, and he represented the best in politics.”

Matsui was born in 1941. The following year, his family was among the Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. Decades later, he helped pass legislation which apologized for the internment policy and provided compensation for the survivors. In a 1988 speech to his congressional colleagues, Matsui said he was motivated by “the tears and painful remembrances of internees.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Matsui as “a master of balanced, practical public policy” and praised his successful efforts to seek legislative redress for other Japanese-Americans who had been interned during War II.

Former President Clinton and his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said in a statement, “Bob Matsui leaves behind a rich legacy of service that improved the lives of his own constituents, all Americans, and people throughout the world.”

California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (news – web sites), also praised Matsui in a statement, saying, “Today, all Californians mourn the loss of this tremendous individual and man of integrity.” Schwarzenegger will call a special election for a new representative in his Sacramento-area district.

Matsui was recently re-elected with ease to his 14th term. His wife, Doris, was until 1998 a deputy director of public liaison in the Clinton White House. He is also survived by a son, Brian.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding