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Welcome Back Ben Cayetano?

We sat down with former governor and current mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano to talk about rail, old guys and why your commute isn’t going to get any better, no matter who wins.


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HM: You could help him.

BC: Well, I think he’s learning fast. I think that, him being a very strong pro-labor guy, always having the interest of the workers at heart, that’s his calling card. I think he’s learned and he was disappointed by the things that he tried to do with the unions, that he did in good faith, and they took advantage of him. That’s my take. It’s a hard lesson for him. I would have never given the unions favored-nation clause. That’s nuts. But he did. Favored-nation clause is—OK, say you got four unions. You negotiate with three, and then the fourth one you negotiate a contract that’s better than any of the other three. With the favored-nation clause, they all get the same thing. It has to be a union guy to think of something like that.

HM: You don’t really have substantial union support, do you?

BC: The unions are important for their organization. The unions are important for phone banking, and they can give you a little bit of money. And then they've got their newsletters. But when I ran, in all my citywide races, we said, “Oh, we gotta have union support.” And we did have union support, but the polls we took showed that the rank and file, except maybe 1 percent or 2 percent, voted like the general population. People shouldn’t expect the rank and file to march lockstep with what the union leadership says.

HM: You’re getting a lot of Republican support in this election. As a long-time Democrat, how’s that feel?

BC: It feels strange. I’ve had many of them come up to me and say, “I’ve never voted for you before, but I’m going to vote for you this time,” because they’re against rail. These are guys who used to boo me, you know?

HM: What’s your take on the Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Honolulu movement?

BC: I think they made their point. They exercised their right to free speech. And they’ve been there too long. Thomas Square? Those guys are still on the sidewalk there. The First Amendment didn’t say you have the right to camp on government property forever. I can agree with many of the things they said, at least the ones that I heard in New York, about these guys on Wall Street. But here in Honolulu, whenever I go up Ward Avenue to go home, there they are. I would find some way to politely tell them, you gotta leave.

HM: Politely tell ’em that, and they’ll be gone?

BC: No, they won’t be. They’ll probably say: “Eff you, Cayetano. You just like those guys on Wall Street.” Then we just leave it to the proper authorities to figure out a way to get them out. Actually, I’d like to offer these guys, the so-called homeless who aren’t really homeless but just mooching off the system, have them go clean the parks or something. Charge ’em with vagrancy, and when they get convicted the penalty is not to go to jail—pick up a rake or something.

HM: Do you have any new ideas on how to deal with homelessness in Honolulu?

BC: It’s a difficult problem, and I had difficulty dealing with it when I was governor. But this is the way I look at the problem—studies indicate that, roughly speaking, a third of the homeless have mental issues, emotional issues. The government’s got to help these guys. Then you have the people who are down and out because they lost their jobs, or things like that. And the way you try to help them is to try and find them jobs, and try to grow the economy. And then you got the other third, and these guys just want to mooch off the public. There’s that element in there, you know. I would wipe those guys out.

HM: On Nov. 6, one week after the general election is scheduled, you’ll turn 73. How do we know you’ll have the energy and the stamina to do the job?

BC: [Gesturing toward his head] Up here, I think I’m better than ever. The years and maturity have helped me to reason better. Physically, I don’t hit the golf ball as far as I used to, but I’m still pretty fit.

We said a name, Cayetano said the first thing that popped into his head:

HM: Neal Blaisdell.

BC: Mayor.

HM: Frank Fasi.

BC: Mayor.

HM: Eileen Anderson.

BC: Mayor.

HM: Mufi Hannemann.

BC: Ed Case got it right: One of the most dangerous politicians there is in Hawaii. Some of the ruthless things that he does—run over people, bully people. But smooth, articulate. Incredible. That’s what I’ve concluded about this guy. I see how he’s hurt people. The guy’s got no class.

HM: Peter Carlisle.

BC: Friend. I would describe him as a friend. I like Peter. He just hasn’t done the job, that’s all. Politics is like boxing. When you get into the ring, it’s all business.


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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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