Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, November 11, 1998


Cayetano won with
a divisive campaign

GOV. Ben Cayetano and company left their election night victory stage saying they "got it." They all said the tiny margin of victory proves they heard the footsteps and will respond.

For Cayetano, election night must have been a fast-acting sugar high. He won with more votes, but still no majority.

Like four years ago, it wasn't the sort of election that stamped him a leader of the state.

For the past four years, Cayetano had to figure that only 37 percent of the people wanted him as their governor. Now he can ease into a room comforted only that he won. Just 49.5 percent of the voters wanted him. Again a majority of the voters wanted someone else -- but at least his vote total is increasing.

After the election Cayetano took off for a vacation, but not before he left a confused set of signals as to what he would do with his last four years in office.

Although he started out saying government must help business, particularly small business, the next morning he was clarifying his statement, noting that small business must meet him half way.

What matters, he said, was the rights won by workers.

The election, however, didn't solve the really serious problems Hawaii faces.

The economy simply hasn't turned around. The video company that helped make most of Cayetano campaign commercials is just one on this month's list of companies that are folding or leaving town. Aloha Airlines, another big symbol of Hawaii, announced that it was reducing its work force. The hotel industry is still standing nervously by the port cochere waiting for the limos to arrive.

If the economy has no more reason to brighten, Hawaii's social problems are equally dim.

Cayetano won with a mean, divisive campaign aimed at splitting apart the community. Even in victory he pointed out that his opponent was such a good speaker that only "1 percent of Hawaii" could speak as well as she.

The sharp separation between Cayetano and Lingle supporters showed that ethnic groups are still divided in whom they support. While an argument can be made that Lingle didn't get enough non-white votes, it was Cayetano who sent out campaign fliers pitching how to tell "if you are local."

Of course, all objections are settled by winning. Local politics is rough. The higher you want to climb, the more blows you have to both absorb and deliver. You lose if you can't hit back harder than they hit you.

This year Cayetano met an opponent who actually expected to win and was willing to fight for it, but by voluntarily limiting her spending in the last weeks of the campaign, Lingle effectively surrendered.

THE question now isn't about Lingle or the Republicans. It is about Cayetano's responsibilities during his last four years. He already announced that he won't be seeking another political office so he's answering the bell for the final rounds.

The challenge facing Cayetano is to go from ideologue to leader.

Hawaii's problems will be solved by leaders who can find consensus and bring people together, not by those who can eke out a divisive victory.

Now is the time for a real economic revitalization conference. Now Hawaii must deliver the goods in high and lower education and prove it is willing to support its children.

Four years is a long time to politicians, but 1,460 days is a short time to change Hawaii.



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




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