Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, January 27, 1999


Cayetano does better
at selling program

MONDAY Gov. Ben Cayetano gave the speech he should have given four years ago. Besides conveying his message in a more relaxed and conversational style, the governor was able to stretch his thinking to include changes to the relationships between state government and the unions.

The governor's proposals were promoted last week as being "out of the box" thinking.

The fifth State of the State message did take listeners outside the conventional thinking of past speeches, especially, as Cayetano himself noted, civil service reform.

Last year Cayetano was urged to think at the "30,000-foot level" as his Economic Revitalization Task Force attempted a broad but poorly explained reform of state taxes.

That's the difference in the speeches. Cayetano and his administration are now out to find buyers for their programs.

This year, unlike past years, Cayetano is selling his speech and his policies.

In previous years, Cayetano was content or self-assured enough to figure that the logic of his argument would carry the day without any further spin from him.

Politicians, like anyone with something to sell, can either do it retail, make a lot of individual sales, or go wholesale and try to win one or two big accounts.

In last year's election, Cayetano's GOP opponent, Linda Lingle, was the master of the retail political sale. At rallies, not only did it appear that she knew most of the people on a first-name basis, but she delighted in introducing her supporters to each other.

Cayetano apparently also is now willing to make a few retail sales.

In the past week Cayetano has held brief-ings for legislative leaders to go over his tax package. He has also promised to be a much more frequent visitor to the Legislature.

One of the big differences between Cayetano and his predecessor, John Waihee, is that Waihee genuinely liked the legislative milieu and could be found most late legislative nights watching the action from the House or Senate radio room. Many times he was there not because he wanted to lobby a bill under discussion, but just because he was curious about what was going on.

Cayetano this week also expressed an interest in getting some help from the news media in selling his programs.

"This is a new beginning," Cayetano said to one of the largest assemblages of local reporters to ever cover a governor's news conference. The reporters were there because Cayetano had provided the news media a chance to quiz the entire cabinet about his State of the State address.

There was a touch of campaign rhetoric to the event, with Cayetano and the cabinet introduced to the 20 or so reporters with a round of applause from the assembled state information officers.

CAYETANO's new human resources director and a former Cayetano campaign worker put a partisan spin on the event by noting that the cabinet would demonstrate "the Democratic Party and the unions can bring about change."

The meeting did indicate, however, that Cayetano was more interested in getting his program out to the public. As he noted: "It is important to demonstrate to the public how serious we are about what we are doing."

That sort of recognition years earlier probably would have eased Cayetano's election last year. Today it should help with a controversial and politically dangerous program.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com




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