BY DANIEL DE GRACIA – Very rarely do we have the opportunity in a primary election as we do now to make a transformational change for our community. Far too often candidates running for office hold identical beliefs and are contrasted only by the intensity of their desire to be “the decider” for the public. But in Saturday’s mayoral primary, the people of Honolulu have a clear, contrasting candidate for change and that is former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano.
I first learned of Ben Cayetano when I was growing up in the Mainland during the early 1990s. His popularity with the Filipino community – both in Hawaii and around the world – was legendary, especially since not only had he never lost an election, but he was also the first ever Filipino-American to be elected to the office of governor in the United States. When I started college at age 17, I majored in political science in part because I believed that one day I too could be like Governor Cayetano if I studied hard enough.
After completing my master’s degree and then moving to Hawaii in 2003, it wasn’t until 2009 that I met Governor Cayetano for the first time. He had just published his autobiography, “Ben: A Memoir, From Street Kid to Governor” and as a writer for the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle I was assigned to do a book review and interview him. When I did my first interview with the former governor, I was stunned by how he talked about how he was so concerned about young people getting a good education and having mentors to not only show them the right way but to encourage them to look beyond their present circumstances and develop self-esteem irrespective of their prior circumstances.
As I heard the former governor describe his career and his outlook for the future, he said something in our interview that I will never forget: “It’s important that we make room for the future youth.” That phrase says everything you need to know about Ben – he is probably Hawaii’s toughest and most hard-boiled elected official ever, but he has been in the fight so that future generations do not have to face the kind of frustration, disappointment and resistance he faced growing up.
Ben Cayetano also has another incredible character quality which few possess these days: he will fight to protect the freedom of choice and the right to be different even when he doesn’t agree with you. Unlike the majority of politicians who insist on imposing personal agendas in spite of public opinion and unlike many contemporary candidates who resort to the politics of personal destruction to destroy opponents, Ben Cayetano is a statesman and a man of honor above all else.
Ben Cayetano is running for all of us. It’s time that we stood for him.