Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Cayetano enjoys
a belated honeymoon

Honeymoons are a time at the beginning of a marriage when peace and good feelings are expected. Politicians, when they launch a new administration, also expect to begin with an equal period of goodwill and friendship.

Gov. Ben Cayetano, who set off his administration in 1995 with more acrimony than bonhomie, finally appears to be getting his political honeymoon.

Or at least Cayetano isn't being blamed for the state's continuing financial woes.

First, Cayetano lined up on the right side of the ball, when he went all out to back June Jones, the University of Hawaii's new football coach.

Three years ago, it was Cayetano who slipped into a bitter confrontation with Fred vonAppen, the humiliated former UH coach. Cayetano and vonAppen sparred and both appeared headed for sure defeat. In the end, Cayetano won re-election, vonAppen lost 31 games, including 18 in a row, and was fired. Jones took the same team and started winning.

But, before Jones became a winner in Hawaii, he had Cayetano on his side. Now the winning feeling spreads past the Manoa campus down to Washington Place.

There's no denying it -- there's a sports-induced glow of good feeling in Honolulu this week. It doesn't change the tax rate or cut the credit card bills, but it sure makes it easier to slip into the holiday spirit.

Politicians, even those in winner-obssessed Hawaii, can't spend all their time hanging with the jocks. They have to move on. So, when Cayetano won one early this week against the oil companies, as the sports announcers would say: "It was huge."

For decades the state has whimpered about the high price of gasoline at the retail pumps. More than a quarter century ago, a brash young lawmaker, Richard S.H. Wong, threatened to subpoena the refineries in a probe of high oil prices.

Later former Gov. John Waihee tried to crack the oil industry. But it was only Cayetano who was able to actually squeeze the industry enough to get a victory.

Tesoro Petroleum and BHP Hawaii tentatively settled in exchange for $15 million and pledges to cooperate in the case.

Getting two defendants in Cayetano's $2 billion lawsuit to work against the rest of the oil industry is a big break.

If there ever was a time for Cayetano to be giving thanks for political good news, it is now. It is also a time for him to hurry through those expressions of gratitude, because a much more difficult time comes with the new century.

When the 2000 Legislature meets it will launch a potentially explosive session.

If Cayetano didn't blink when suing the oil companies, he is staring just as hard at the public employee unions.

Union support is always vital in elections, but the public worker unions, particularly the HGEA and UPW, have refined and honed the political edge until it is one of the most significant influences at the legislature.

Despite that, Cayetano is aiming a government reform plan straight at the Capitol. Barring the discovery of gold in the Koolaus, the Legislature will have to deal with either cutting the state budget, cutting public worker jobs or changing the way the state government operates.

Cayetano should start rooting for UH basketball Coach Riley Wallace to do as well as June Jones.

Legislature Directory
Hawaii Revised Statutes
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Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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