He is one of Hawaii's most controversial and complicated political figures.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE SWANN / DSWANN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Cayetano's tenure wasBen on Ben
marked by a weak economy
and education clashes
By Richard Borreca
Ben Cayetano, 63, leaves state government tomorrow at noon after serving a total of 28 years as a state representative, senator, lieutenant governor and governor.
As governor, he spent eight years as the ultimate insider, but even his friends say he was always an outsider.
Raised by a single father, Cayetano grew up poor and, by his own admission, "just barely graduated" from Farrington High School in Kalihi. But he found a way to go to college in California, become an attorney, return to Hawaii and run for political office.
His record in office was at times a series of contradictions. He was one of Hawaii's most partisan Democrats, but he admits to purposely ignoring the party after becoming governor. Cayetano never lost an election, but he twice took the governorship with majorities of less than 50 percent.
After what he called the eight most frustrating years of his life as No. 2, lieutenant governor to former Gov. John Waihee, Cayetano won the governorship in 1994, only to find a state budget bleeding red ink and his plans to move the state forward crippled by a weak economy.
Cayetano served 12 years in the Legislature before becoming lieutenant governor in 1986. He collected pages of headlines as a mass-transit opponent, an innovative Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman, a vocal Democratic dissident and then as father of the A+ after-school program.
Although he describes himself as someone willing to use government and spend money to solve problems, Cayetano will be remembered as the first Hawaii governor to heed the call for a smaller, more efficient government.
And although he wants to be known as a leader who supported and believed in good public education, public school teachers mistrust him and University of Hawaii professors endorsed his opponent.
"His relationship with the teachers changed dramatically over the eight years," said Joan Husted, Hawaii State Teachers Association executive director. "He was very supportive, and we worked very hard to get him elected and re-elected.
"But as he leaves office, he may have been supportive of public education, (but) he didn't like teachers and said they were greedy and ungrateful."
During his second term, Cayetano took on the state's unionized teachers and professors, who staged unprecedented, simultaneous strikes. The walkouts resulted in pay raises, but at a much lower level than first requested by the unions.
Cayetano said the contracts forced the unions to give more support to students and accept more responsibility.
Cayetano noted that while the state Democratic Party philosophy of having neither rich nor poor school districts serves as a balance, it also precludes excellence.
"If we are to continue that system, we have to find ways to achieve excellence -- excellence in our teachers and in our students," Cayetano said in an interview last week. "We don't expect enough of our kids. The standards we set are middling because we are trying to be all things to all people."
Teachers, however, saw his educational theories and blunt negotiating style as criticism.
"He protected public education from taking the cuts that other people might have taken in this poor economy, so he shielded it from the cuts," Husted said. "But he left behind a very angry and demoralized cadre of teachers who felt they were being unfairly attacked and blamed for anything and everything that didn't go right with the public education system."
Lowell Kalapa, Hawaii Tax Foundation director, added that the Cayetano style hurt.
"The ferocity with which he attacked the union made the rank and file very bitter," Kalapa said. "He could have gotten it a nicer way, but he was unwilling to negotiate."
Cayetano's very strength hurt him, said Senate President Robert Bunda, an early ally, but who eventually presided over a Senate that performed the almost unheard-of political act of overriding a Hawaii governor's veto.
"People will judge him as a street fighter, an advocate. He was forthright and honest," Bunda said. "But we had to override some of his vetoes. I think he put his personal views in front of what the Legislature and community wanted."
Supporters see Cayetano's confrontational style as the result of his training as a trial attorney who fought to win.
"He was very good at making his case," said Colbert Matsumoto, appointed by Cayetano to the board of trustees of both the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Employees' Retirement System.
To Cayetano's credit, Matsumoto said, the governor "never learned to be an insider."
But, Matsumoto said, he worries that Cayetano leaves office with many people not understanding the man.
"In the short term, they may not judge him too nicely," he said. "But if anyone bothers to assess his eight years in office, he has steered the state through a difficult period and really forced the government to challenge certain assumptions and things we have taken for granted."
Lorraine Akiba, a private attorney who served in Cayetano's Cabinet as Labor Department director and is now Democratic Party chairwoman, acknowledges that Cayetano "wasn't into running popularity contests," but instead set a standard for fiscal responsibility.
"He definitely wasn't a schmoozer, but he wanted to get the job done," Akiba said.
Another former Cabinet member, however, complained that Cayetano didn't keep his own staff in check.
"I think he started right and had good intentions to do it right, but his management style got in the way," said Jimmy Takushi, the retired personal services director who served in the Cabinets to two former Democratic governors.
"Cayetano meant well, but his management style and his staff didn't help," Takushi said.
Two of Cayetano's most controversial Cabinet members, Attorney General Margery Bronster and Budget Director Earl Anzai, were rejected by the Senate when they were reappointed in Cayetano's second term.
Anzai was later successfully confirmed as attorney general.
Akiba, however, disagreed with Takushi's assessment, noting that Cayetano did not "micromanage" his Cabinet, but would hold them accountable for performance.
"He would make the policy decision, discuss the issue and then get the job done," she said. "He was not a micromanager."
In other areas, such as native Hawaiian affairs, Cayetano pointed to his administration's accomplishments, including putting "more native Hawaiians on homestead lands than all other administrations combined."
Cayetano's department of Hawaiian Homestead Lands put homes up in Kona, Kapolei, Hanapepe, Honolulu and even Lanai, but Cayetano's clashes with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs left some Hawaiians feeling bitter about the feisty Democrat.
"Overall, the native Hawaiians opposed him in his bid for governor, and we were disappointed by his attacks on Hawaiian entitlements and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs," said Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, chairwoman of the University of Hawaii's department of Hawaiian studies.
Hawaiians are concerned, she said, because of the state's challenge of the ceded-lands revenue law that the Hawaii Supreme Court declared moot on Sept. 12, 2001.
After more than a decade in court, seeking revenue from public trust or ceded lands, the state and OHA agreed in 1993 on a $130 million settlement that formed the corpus for OHA's current $325 million trust. Since 1991, OHA has received annual revenue payments from the state, ranging from $10.8 million in 1991 to $25 million in 1995 to $8.2 million in 2001.
But Cayetano and OHA have been unable to agree to additional sources of ceded-land revenue.
"Governor Cayetano's anti-Hawaiian stance is really what is driving Hawaiians from the Democratic Party and had them support Linda Lingle," Kame'eleihiwa said.
Although Cayetano notes that Hawaii's feeble economy never regained the strength of the state's boom days and he was forced to cut services, jobs and even tax breaks, some opponents charge he was not tough enough on the budget.
"He came in and put through a tax increase by withdrawing the tax credits," said Rep. Galen Fox, Republican House leader. "It was a tool to balance the budget. It was a significant tax increase and it crippled the economy the next year."
Cayetano argues that talking about the budget and actually making the changes are two different things.
"It is different when you are in the seat making the calls and you don't have enough money," Cayetano said. "You ask yourself, how are you going to deal with this and not raise taxes?
"I had visions I would end my term with the state pretty healthy, but 9/11 changed all that."
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Gov. Cayetano lists 10 major accomplishments as governor:
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1. Reduced income taxes.
2. Cut back the growth of state government.
3. Built 16 new public schools, increased public teacher pay and added almost 3,000 new teaching positions.
4. Restructured civil service and state health fund.
5. Doubled funding for tourism, set up the Hawaii Tourism Authority and oversaw $350 million Convention Center.
6. Increased state construction budget by $1 billion.
7. Tax credits granted for hotel construction.
8. Lobbied for new high-tech tax breaks, the new University of Hawaii medical school and attracted international conferences such as the Asian Development Bank.
9. Governed in a "fiscally responsible manner and gave Hawaii's people eight years of scandal-free leadership."
10. Bought the East Honolulu Ka Iwi shoreline and the former Hemmeter building to serve as a state art museum.
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