Cayetano makes life an open book


POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ben Cayetano, one of Hawaii's most controversial and complex politicians, has completed a no-holds barred memoir of his life, tracing his upbringing in Kalihi to his many successes in office.




Signed, sealed, delivered

        Former Gov. Ben Cayetano's new autobiography, “;Ben: A Memoir, from Street Kid to Governor,”; is available in local bookstores. The 560-page book is published by Watermark Publishing and sells for $19.95.

Cayetano will do a series of book signings and answer questions from the public:


Saturday: 11 a.m. to noon, Barnes & Noble, Kahala Mall and from 2 to 3 p.m. at Borders, Ward Centre.


Feb. 22: 1 to 2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana.


March 7: 11 a.m. to noon at Borders, Pearlridge and from 2 to 3 p.m. at Borders, Waikele.


All profits from the book will go to a charitable foundation.


In the book, “;Ben: A Memoir, From Street Kid to Governor,”; Cayetano opens up page after page of candid reflections on his life, his family and the politicians who served with him during his 28 years in the state Capitol.

Cayetano, 69, observes in the introduction: “;There is much about ethnicity and race in this book. There is no getting around it. The remarkable evolution of Hawaii is all about ethnicity and race.”;

He goes on to say that whites or haoles “;do not have a monopoly on racism.”;

“;Locals understood that the Portuguese, who were never accepted as equals by the haoles, were wary of the Japanese and Chinese, who were in turn wary of the Filipinos, Hawaiians and everyone else.

“;As history reveals, however, the use of power is fundamental to the haole culture. And during the times I write about, the haoles often did use power to keep other ethnic groups in line,”; Cayetano wrote.

The once-divorced Cayetano, who is now married to Vicky Cayetano, a successful private businesswoman, also examines his own family.

Cayetano reveals that the man who raised him was not his real father, that his mother suffered from a tragic drug addiction and that his brother, Ken, is gay.

“;He (Cayetano's brother) lived a quiet life for more than four decades. He served his country in the Vietnam War, held a steady job, is law-abiding, votes and found a loving partner,”; Cayetano writes.

All of this, the former private attorney writes “;profoundly affected my political positions on gay rights, drug addiction, latchkey children ... strengthening my belief that for too many of our citizens, their government is the last hope for improving the quality of their lives.”;


While Cayetano offers up an unblinking look at his own family, his descriptions and thoughts about fellow politicians are equally candid.

For instance, Cayetano reveals that he didn't support his lieutenant governor, Mazie Hirono, when she ran unsuccessfully for governor against Lingle in 2002.

Cayetano writes how he was hurt by Hirono, who in 2001 supported teachers on strike against the state.

“;Her walking the picket line was about as appropriate as a backup quarterback cheering for the opposing team. There are many defining moments in every politician's career - her decision to walk the picket line was one of them,”; Cayetano said, noting that former Gov. George Ariyoshi told him that the move “;won't help her; the old folks won't like it.”;

Cayetano said Ariyoshi was referring to older Japanese-American voters, for whom “;loyalty is a very important virtue.”;

That split, Cayetano said, did not end his friendship with Hirono, but “;it did affect my opinion on whether she would be the Democrats' best hope for governor in 2002.”;

In fact, Cayetano said he originally decided to support former Mayor Jeremy Harris, concluding that “;Harris, not Hirono, was the Democratic Party's best hope.”;

When Harris withdrew, Cayetano said, he privately backed former congressman Ed Case, who at the time was a member of the state House.

Cayetano describes Case, who was born in Hawaii as “;local but looks very haole,”; as courageous, independent and honest.

“;As governor, I was obligated to stay neutral in the Democratic primary. It was no secret, however, that I was pulling for Case to win,”; Cayetano says.




Quotes from the book

        » On former Speaker of the House Henry Peters: “;Henry was born 200 years too late; he thinks he's King Kamehameha.”;

» After questioning the jurors in a murder trial that he had won, Cayetano was congratulated by one of the jurors: “;As I extended my hand to shake hers, and before I could say anything, she said, 'Our father would have been proud.' I was speechless. 'My father is Jerry,' she said smiling. 'I'm Barbara, your half sister.'”;


» About state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim: “;Kim enjoyed playing the 'gotcha' game. Her good looks belied her pernicious nature.”;


» Thoughts on politics and former Mayor Jeremy Harris: “;I didn't trust Harris; when it came to politics I believed him to be a person who would say or do anything to get his way - but I had supported him simply because I thought he could win. “;Cynical pragmatism had overcome my idealism. It was time for me to get out of politics.”;


In an interview last week, Cayetano reflected on his autobiography. Always a constant reader, Cayetano had started a lending library for his staff while he was lieutenant governor, stocking a bookcase with nonfiction books he had recently finished.

“;I read a lot,”; Cayetano said. “;The only guy who reads more than me is (U.S. Rep.) Neil Abercrombie.”;

After reading both local and national autobiographies and memoirs, Cayetano said he could see that the temptation for self-censorship would result in a boring book.

After reading President Obama's “;Dreams from My Father,”; Cayetano said, he felt that it was OK for a politician to lay everything out for public examination.

“;If you are going to be candid, you have to explain why politicians did certain things,”; Cayetano said in an interview.

Cayetano, a skilled trial lawyer, also talks about the lawsuit filed regarding who could vote in Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections. As first envisioned, only native Hawaiians were allowed to vote for OHA trustees. The U.S. Supreme Court decision, Rice vs. Cayetano, changed that, ruling that all eligible voters in Hawaii could vote in OHA elections.

In his memoir, Cayetano says the ruling changed native Hawaiian relations and forestalls a nation as imagined by supporters of the federal native Hawaiian recognition bill in congress, the so-called Akaka Bill. Cayetano writes that many Hawaiians have “;a recurring urge to restore the past, to embellish the images of the alii (royalty), to see history as they want to see it rather than as it was.”;

“;It is critical for Hawaiians and non-Hawaiian leaders to develop a sense of the limitations of what state government can do to help Hawaiians - and of what they must do to help themselves,”; Cayetano writes.