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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Cayetano’s tough
tactics pay off

IF there was ever a New Year's resolution the state Legislature should make, it is this one: "Be it resolved, we will not ignore lame-duck governors."

As he closes out one of the most combative, confrontational and disharmonious terms since statehood, Gov. Ben Cayetano is shaping up as the big winner of 2000.

He wins, not because he suddenly started to appease his critics nor because statesmanship has taken the place of acrimony, but because of his appreciation for a sharp slap on the head instead of constantly trying to find consensus.

His demands for curbing the power of the public employee unions is the latest in a series of Cayetano battles that shows consensus works best when you are holding your opponent out a window by his ankles.

Civil service reform dominated last year's Legislature, because Cayetano put it on the agenda and won't let it off.

It was not an issue in the state campaigns last year and no one campaigned for or against it. But the public employee unions hated it and did everything they could to stop any reforms. It didn't work and Cayetano was right back. He linked pay raises for public workers to cuts in worker benefits. It worked.

Gary Rodrigues, executive director of the United Public Workers, was forced to redefine the battle to save face.

Claiming that the issue was that benefits had to to be bargained, rather than changed by the Legislature, Rodrigues was able to say he won, even though his workers got less than what had been won in arbitration by the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

That HGEA settlement, however, may be the best example of a Cayetano win and a legislative loss. While civil service reform wasn't a campaign issue, the HGEA pay raise was.

HGEA workers gave up the right to strike in return for the promise of arbitrated awards, so the state was duty-bound to pay, legislators said.

No way, said Cayetano. In essence he threatened: "If they don't like it, let them strike."

At the time, it appeared the state was heading toward a spring labor showdown.

But Cayetano worked a deal with Rodrigues and the strike threat was dropped. The firefighters just won an arbitrated award similar to the UPW agreement, leaving the teachers and university faculty to come around.

MEANWHILE Cayetano continues his pledge not to fund the arbitrated HGEA award, leaving the legislators stranded on their limb of labor fidelity. He did the same thing with the last teachers contract when he refused to settle until extracting extra working days for extra pay.

Legislators, who assume that with a little more wiggle room everyone can win, have yet to appreciate Cayetano's last-minute victories.

Cayetano fumbled the ball with his plans for revamping the Ala Wai Golf Course into a mid-Pacific Central Park, when he discovered that his powers to unilaterally change the land designation weren't as broad as he first thought.

But the governor is back pitching with a program to revamp Kakaako.

Perhaps overlooked in it is the call for a second billion-dollar construction budget.

Cayetano pushed through a similar building boom when he was running for re-election. Those bills are starting to come due, but Cayetano expects to spend more for education.

While legislators haven't staked out a position against him yet, it is a safe bet that the governor will antagonize enough that they will flirt with rejecting his education package -- before they glumly realize that Cayetano has won again.

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

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