‘Mayor Ben’ Tried and True

Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, Retired Judge Walter Heen and Mrs. Heen
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Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, Retired Judge Walter Heen and Mrs. Heen

BY J. ARTHUR RATH – In the tradition of other immigrant groups, Filipinos glorified every achievement of their countrymen as they advanced from the fields into the mainstream of island life.

The person making them the proudest was Benjamin J. Cayetano, who, after winning eight elections to public office, was twice consecutively elected governor of the state of Hawaii.


He graduated from UCLA and Loyola Law School, both in California, and was raised to success by his single-parent dad, a busboy in the Outrigger Club dining room.  (And as a private citizen Ben Cayetano carried on family fealty of being supportive and helpful to his younger brother as he met challenges of his own.)

…After visiting Colbert Matsumoto at a Zen Buddhist dojo, Governor Cayetano said, “It was like being on the set of “Kung Fu”—Colbert was even shaven.  Colbert is spiritual and one of the most honest and decent persons I’ve ever met, and is strongly committed to the needs of the less fortunate.”

Matumoto’s friendship with Benjamin Cayetano began when Colbert volunteered as a campaign worker on Cayetano’s first State Senate campaign in 1978.  He spent many hours with Cayetano campaigning on pineapple and sugar plantations.

Attorney General Bronster completed her report on Kamehameha Schools to Governor Cayetano about August 29, 1997.  She said beneficiaries’ rights could be at great risk and wanted to continue.

The process Margery Bronster would use has always existed to ensure compliance with trust obligations.  She was the first official daring enough to apply it.

She told me, “Governor Cayetano has a very strong sense of what is right and what is moral.  He gave me the responsibility.”

…Governor Cayetano told the public that potential witnesses shouldn’t fear reprisals.  He stated that even if former Bishop Estate employees had confidentiality clauses written into their employment contracts, such clauses are subservient to the law.  They couldn’t be sued for breach of contract if they responded to the attorney general’s subpoenas.

…The sea was rough between the governor and the Legislature, particularly the channels between the Senate and the governor.  [Trustees being threatened by Cayetano’s investigation had been in the Senate and their friends still were.  Only Oz Stender supported the effort and provided background for what became known as “The Broken Trust Essays. ]

One thoughtful person wrote, “in the economic downturn the Legislature and governor should work together to find some solutions to problems.  When you have this kind of rift going on, it doesn’t speak well for Hawaii’s future.  [But Hawaii’s politicians protected former politicians who were now trustees. As costs for the investigation escalated and funds were running low, Cayetano told Bronster to continue and not be dissuaded, he would come up with what was necessary.]

During his campaign, Governor Cayetano said Margery Bronster would not accept a possible nomination to the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals because of the important work she was doing, including her work on Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate.  “She has pledged her support to continue the investigation,” Cayetano reported proudly.

Margery explained her defeat in this way:  “I believe it had to do with the face that he (Cayetano) took on some very powerful opponents [who knew about manipulation].

The State Senate also rejected the confirmation of the governor’s good friend Earl Anzai who brought a blunt style to the state budget crisis. Instead of sugarcoating the truth about a $250 million shortfall hobbling the State, he fixed it.  Within three months of his failed reconfirmation, the State would have a surplus of  $180 million.

After the Senate dismissed Margery, and despite political opposition, Ben Cayetano continued to uproot the causes of a Broken Trust.  Despite the strength of the opposition, he believed in doing what was right.

Excerpted from “Lost Generations, A Boy, A School, A Princess,” by J. Arthur Rath, University of Hawaii Press (2006).










  1. If Ben hadn’t (accurately) seen the Republicans of his youth as the protectors of racial privilege in Hawaii, he might be a R today. He’s a social liberal but at least a bit of a fiscal conservative who believes (a bit too much) in government as a means to “set things right.” But we could do much worse — and any mayor who persists with the foolishness of the train qualifies for that club. Peter Carlisle booted his shot very badly.

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