Joseph William Bertram III, former state representative and long-time community organizer from South Maui, passed away May 24.
He was an unlikely elected official. He was Hawaii’s first and only openly HIV+, gay legislator. He unsuccessfully ran for Maui County Council in 1992, 1998, 2000 and 2004. He was a member of the Green Party of Hawai’i before becoming a Democrat and running for the open South Maui House seat in 2006 and winning. He was re-elected in 2008 but after a particularly nasty contest in 2010, he narrowly lost. He also stood for election to the 1978 Constitutional Convention in the South/East Maui district.
He was a strong advocate for green belts, open spaces, bikeways and a more complete and robust public transit system. He also advocated for the legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage and vegetarianism among other controversial issues during his tenure in office.
Running in 2006, he said “We need to think outside of the box and re-establishing what we had before. There were small towns and people walking and biking with trains that connected everything. We need to get back to that.”
He served on the Kihei Community Association’s Board of Director for many years as well as the Kihei Youth Center and ran the non-profit Greenways Maui, which was dedicated to establishing a pathway system around the island. Bertram will also be remembered for being on the Mayor’s Bikeway Advisory Committee in 1991 which conceptualized and developed the Kihei Greenway system that is still being implemented.
In 1999, while serving on the Maui Planning Commission, he testified against a housing project before a Maui County Council committee. The developer, Maui Land and Pine, sued to bar him from Planning Commission discussions on the project when they subsequently applied for an SMA permit. On appeal, the ACLU supported him noting that public officials should be allowed to speak on public policy issues without sacrificing the authority of their offices.
As a child, he attended Kihei Elementary School and graduated from Baldwin High School. Many of us knew him as Joey.