Ben Cayetano


POSTED: Friday, October 09, 2009

Ben Cayetano might have another book in him. The former Hawaii governor, whose revealing memoir, “;Ben: A Memoir, from Street Kid to Governor,”; was published early this year, is considering tackling a historical novel, covering the decades after the 1954 Democratic revolution that brought sweeping changes to the islands.

“;There's a lot of material, that's for sure, if not for me, for somebody,”; Cayetano, who turns 70 next month, said in an interview Wednesday at the Waialae Iki home he shares with his wife, business executive Vicky.

The iconoclastic Democrat, whose second gubernatorial term ended in 2002, spent about three years researching and writing the memoir, revisiting his Kalihi youth and sometimes bumpy political rise to become the first Filipino-American governor in the United States. Always an avid reader, the Farrington High School graduate found he relished writing as well.

Cayetano, who participates in a panel discussion tomorrow at the main library in celebration of Filipino-American History Month, sat down to discuss how he would have dealt with the state's current fiscal crisis, his picks in some hot political races, and the pitfalls of naming names.

QUESTION: The instructional gains your administration helped achieve by lengthening the school year have been wiped out by the teacher furloughs. What's your take on the Hawaii State Teachers Association deal?

ANSWER: First, I think that the HSTA did a good thing by coming up with a furlough plan of their own. However, I think that they made a mistake by (cutting so many class) days. Of course, I think there are things that could be done which would not require furloughs by the teachers.

Q: Like what?

A: There's money that they can go to, whether it's the Hurricane Relief Fund or doing things like lagging the payroll, which is something that is done in the private sector. You just put one paycheck into the next fiscal year so from a budgetary purpose you “;save”; maybe something like $65 million. Or use the half-percent general excise tax for rail because it's not going to endanger the rail project, if you do it on the condition that when the federal government approves the project, then the tax will be reinstalled. Meanwhile, the money can go, $175 million roughly a year, into the general fund and help deal with the $800-something million (state budget) shortfall.

Q: Was diverting the rail tax seriously considered?

A: It was considered at the beginning of the session, ... but then I think Sen. (Daniel) Inouye said if you do that you might endanger the rail project. And I disagree with him because I've been dealing with this rail issue ever since I was a chairman of the Transportation Committee in the (state) House, and all the federal government requires is that the local government have a funding mechanism in place when they approve the project. They don't require you to collect the tax in advance, as the city is doing. You try that on mainland constituents, they'll vote you out of office.

Q: Word is that the HGEA has agreed to a similar (furlough) deal. What's your assessment of the negotiations and the outcome?





        Former Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano will participate in a discussion tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the Hawaii State Library in celebration of Filipino-American History Month. The two-hour discussion, in the First Floor Reading Room, will center on Cayetano's recent memoir, “;Ben: A Memoir, from Street Kid to Governor.”;

The Hawaii State Library is at 478 S. King St. across from Honolulu Hale. For more information, call 586-3499.


A: Well, I think the unions are wise to go with the furloughs. The furlough approach is better for everyone.

Q: How would you have dealt with this fiscal crisis if you were still governor?

A: Well, I wouldn't have dealt with it the way she (Gov. Linda Lingle) has dealt with it. ... Apparently they didn't read the labor contract, which requires the administration to sit down, whether it's layoffs or furloughs, and enter into good-faith consultations with the unions. That's in the contract. You don't have to agree with the unions ... but you do have to consult with them. So that's what I would have done. Some of the statements that the governor makes lead me to wonder whether she understands the fiscal crisis, because she was quoted as saying, 'We already cut $2 billion and that's without touching labor costs.' She never cut $2 billion. ... Now, from my recollection, the general fund in one year is about $4 billion. You can't cut $2 billion from $4 billion without everybody noticing. So what she's done — and unfortunately the press has not corrected her — she has taken the revenue projections by the state Council of Revenues and called that a cut. That's not a cut; that's a projection. I'd go and use the money in the Hurricane Relief Fund. I'd implement a payroll lag. Then I'd use that rail tax, divert it temporarily.

Q: Let's talk about some of the 2010 political races. Will you make official endorsements?

A: Well, since I'm retired, there's not a problem for me, and, of course, I'm supporting Neil Abercrombie (for governor), and I'm supporting Ed Case (in the 1st Congressional District).

Q: Anything to say about Colleen Hanabusa?

A: Colleen is a very bright person, and I think she's been a good legislator, but if I have to choose between her and Case, I'll go with Case. I think it's important to have someone there who has independent thought.

Q: What about Charles Djou (a Republican Honolulu City Councilman running for the seat)?

A: I think he is an intelligent person. I like him. But he's in the wrong race. He should be running for mayor.

Q: In your memoir, you discuss your opposition as a state legislator to then-Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi's rail transit. How do you feel about the current plan?

A: I'm against it. The reasons I'm against it are basically the same. First of all, the mayor's rail transit plan is so expensive. They estimate $5.6 billion, something like that. If the historical patterns on the mainland follow through, you can probably add another $2 billion or maybe even $3 billion to that. And they're forecasting unreasonably high ridership. That means that real property taxes are going to go up, and the cost of living is going to go up. And I don't think it's going to relieve traffic congestion to the point that it's worth the cost.

Q: Also in the book, you emphasize the importance of native Hawaiian issues but conclude that it will take a strong, charismatic native Hawaiian leader to openly address them. Did you have someone in mind?

A: No. I don't see anyone like that on the horizon. The conclusion that I reached was that the activists ... have been successful in creating these expectations. The revisionist history that they've been teaching at the university has made it very difficult politically for Hawaiian leaders who understand what Rice v. Cayetano meant, for example, that sovereignty is probably something that's not achievable. Because I can't see for the life of me our federal government approving any scheme that's going to allow people to elect members of this entity on a race basis. You read Rice. To me it's very clear.

Q: So you don't think the Akaka Bill will stand up, even if it passes?

A: I think the Akaka Bill will be declared unconstitutional, if it passes. Clearly the president has said he will sign it. First thing that will happen (after that) is that you're going to have people who are going to challenge it. Meanwhile, OHA is talking about cutting positions. I wonder if they are cutting anything from their lobbying budget or the PR budget that they have, which is highly unusual for a state agency. What people don't understand is that the 20 percent that everybody's talking about (to help native Hawaiians) is set by general law. The Legislature could amend the law to make it 100 percent or 1 percent. But the 20 percent has sort of taken on a life of its own.

Q: Any personal fallout (from writing the book)? Anybody no longer speaking to you?

A: One person avoids me.

Q: Who?

A: I'm not going to say, but I know that when she saw me at a program one time, she took a circuitous route. Even when I criticize people in the book, I think I'm being fair to them. I'm not being mean-spirited. ... They don't have a leg to stand on. They know what I wrote is true.