Take Ben Cayetano’s Advice – Be True To Yourself

Liz Larson
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Liz Larson

BY LIZ LARSON – Wednesday, I met face to face with Ben Cayetano, former Governor of the State of Hawaii.  He was the keynote speaker at the Smart Business Hawaii Conference held at the Ala Moana Hotel on Wednesday, January 9.

He has become an inspiration to young aspiring politicians, such as myself, who saw him battling last November against Hawaii’s entire political establishment, and almost winning.  He gained 46% of the vote in the Honolulu 2012 mayoral race against Kirk Caldwell, despite the coalition of politicians, big corporations, and unions that opposed him and the estimated $7 million spent in negative campaigning against him.


In his speech, Cayetano advised us, “Be true to yourself, the voters can tell if you are being real.”

I told him that I had run in the 2012 elections as the Republican Candidate for State Senate District 12.  I asked what he would advise future candidates who were trying to fight corruption and do the right thing.

He said “Become a Democrat.”

His comment gained quite a few laughs from his largely conservative, pro-business audience.  But his answer also caused me to ponder.  I had hoped that this experienced and wise politician had some magical secret that he could share with us that would solve all of Hawaii’s problems.

I now realize that the answer was already in front of me and that his earlier admonition to “Be true to yourself” was the key to revealing it to others.

The truth is, I already have strong convictions about what is needed to solve Hawaii’s problems, but the solutions, though simple, will not be easy.  We need leaders in our communities that will stand on these convictions and affect positive change.

Conviction #1:

We need less party politics and more people willing to stand up for what they believe.

In the Hawaii State House of Representatives, there are only 7 Republicans and 44 Democrats.  Out of the 25 State Senators in Hawaii, only one is Republican.

These statistics would not be so troubling if the Democrat Party had open and honest dialogue about the bills they are passing.  There is very little discussion on the Senate floor since the majority party has long caucus meetings behind closed doors with its 24 members.  The public is left in the dark about the real issues.

In contrast, Sam Slom, the minority leader and lone caucus member, has very short and productive caucus meetings, as it is surprising how easily he agrees with himself.

On a more serious note, Slom is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in and clearly voices where he stands on the issues openly on the Senate floor.  His door is always open to the public and to the press.

Conviction #2:

We need to carry on the American tradition of being a nation of makers, not takers.

Forbes Magazine released an interesting article on November 25th called ‘Do You Live In A Death Spiral State?’

The article explains that makers are those gainfully employed by the private sector.  Takers are those that work for the government, are retired from the government and collecting a pension, or are welfare recipients.

We hope that the takers are truly in need, a dedicated public servant, or a deserving retiree.  But what would happen to a state if the takers outnumbered the makers?  Taxes would increase significantly and prosperous citizens and businesses would flee the state.  This would cause a state’s finances to deteriorate quickly.

Well that is exactly what has happened to 10 states in the Union.  New Mexico has the highest taker/maker ratio with 1.53, meaning that if a company opens up shop in New Mexico and has 100 employees, then that company would have to support 153 takers.  Not many companies are excited to move to New Mexico.

So what is Hawaii’s taker/maker ratio?  At 1.02, it is ranked the 10th worst state.  Some would say that’s not too bad.  However, this means the takers outnumber the makers.  That ratio has tipped the scales in the wrong direction and combined with Hawaii’s extremely high pension liability and Medicaid liability will put Hawaii in a death spiral if we do not take hold of the steering column immediately and turn the plane back in the right direction.

Conviction #3:

We need to be serious about getting Hawaii back on the right track.

Governor Abercrombie’s $6.1 Billion budget proposal, a 7.8% increase, seems to be woefully short-sighted in light of the $800 million deficit we face.  Growing the government only increases the taker/maker ratio.  That combined with the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye, whose seniority and reputation allowed him to secure considerable amounts of federal dollars, puts Hawaii in dire financial straits.

So what can we do?  We can no longer rely on our elected officials to do what is right.  We need to get more involved in our communities, educate ourselves about the laws that are being made, hold our elected officials accountable, and register to vote.

Think about running for office if you think you could do a better job.  If politics are not your thing, become part of the neighborhood board, or just attend the meetings.  Volunteer for a charitable organization or reach out to your neighbors.

Only you know what it is that you can do to help Hawaii get back on track.  Take Ben’s advice, be true to yourself.


Liz Larson is a small business owner in Waikiki, member of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, member of the School Community Council and President of the Parent Organization at Jefferson Elementary School.





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