Ben Cayetano

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Updated May 2017

Ben Cayetano, a Democrat, was the fifth governor of Hawaii, serving from 1994 to 2002. He was the first Filipino-American to rise to the level of governor in any U.S. state. He lost a tough mayoral campaign to Kirk Caldwell in 2012 but established himself as the leading opponent of the Honolulu rail project.

His argument against rail was that it would cost much more than the projected $5.2 billion and he was right. By early 2017, the cost was estimated to be at least $10 billion.

Cayetano was one of the plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit challenging the Honolulu rail project’s environmental documents, claiming that rail planners did not adequately consider alternatives and violated federal law. The city eventually prevailed in that lawsuit and Cayetano and the other plaintiffs decided not to appeal.

In the 2012 mayor’s race, Cayetano received 45 percent of the vote while Caldwell received 53 percent. Cayetano’s platform centered on stopping the Honolulu rail project from proceeding, and pro-rail factions — most notably the Pacific Resource Partnership, a Carpenters’ Union affiliate — spent millions to defeat him.

PRP ran attack ads that have been widely viewed as one of the most negative campaigns in Hawaii history. Cayetano filed a defamation lawsuit against PRP and in 2014 the organization settled the case by publicly apologizing and, at Cayetano’s request, donating more than $100,000 to charities chosen by the former governor.

Cayetano was born Nov. 14, 1939. He grew up in Kalihi, graduated from Farrington High School and is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. He later went to Loyola Law School in California and returned to Hawaii to enter local politics as a Democrat.

He served in the Hawaii House of Representatives, then in the state Senate, then as lieutenant governor to Gov. John Waihee. He bested Republican Pat Saiki and former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, running as an independent, in the 1994 gubernatorial election. In 1998, he narrowly edged Republican Linda Lingle, who succeeded Cayetano as governor in 2002 after he was term-limited out of office.

Cayetano’s lieutenant governor was Mazie Hirono, who later became a U.S. senator.

Ben Cayetano
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