A first-time politician and former Republican is seeking the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s nomination to be governor in 2022.

Vicky Cayetano, wife of former two-term Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano, made her announcement Monday on the grounds of the State Capitol, accompanied by more than a half dozen members of her campaign team.

Cayetano, 65, said her top priorities include dealing with Covid-19, the economy and sustainable tourism, climate change — which she referred to as climate “collapse” to underscore the crisis — affordable housing, education and health care.

But Cayetano elected to not criticize for the time being her expected opponent, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who has all but declared his candidacy. Nor did she have much to say about Gov. David Ige, whose second and final term expires in December 2022.

Hawaii’s former First Lady Vicky Cayetano announcing that she is officially running as a Democrat for Governor of the State of Hawai‘i during News conference at Hawai‘i State Capitol grounds on Monday August 30, 2021. Ronen Zilberman Civil Beat.
Former Hawaii First Lady Vicky Cayetano announced Monday that she is officially running as a Democrat for governor. Her husband, former Gov. Ben Cayetano, is at left. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

She also said that she chose as her campaign message “Vicky for Governor” not to distance herself from her husband, whose eight years in office were not without controversy, but because she wants to stress that this is her campaign, not his.

Cayetano also emphasized her approach to governing would be collaborative and with a “humble spirit,” words that are not often used to describe her husband’s time in office from 1994 to 2002.

“Hawaii has never been at a more critical juncture than we are now,” Cayetano said. “We need a fresh perspective and innovative ways of thinking to address the extraordinary challenges facing our state as we recover and emerge from the pandemic.”

Small ‘D’

Asked by a reporter about her past political affiliation, Cayetano said that the Republican Party is not the same party it was 25 years ago when she was a member. She said she is pro-choice, supports medically assisted death and a higher minimum wage, and that she believes climate change is real.

Campaign Chair Loretta Sheehan gesturing as she speaks the press after former first Lady Vicky Cayetano announces that she is officially running as a Democrat for Governor of the State of Hawai‘i during News conference at Hawai‘i State Capitol grounds on Monday August 30, 2021. Ronen Zilberman Civil Beat.
Campaign Chair Loretta Sheehan. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

Still, the Vicky for Cayetano banner does not emphasize her current party affiliation, using only a small “D” in a circle similar to a trademark or copyright symbol.

And her official website — vickyforgovernor.com — barely mentions Democrats. It may represent an effort to appeal to GOP voters, who are allowed to pull the Democratic ballot in the primary.

Her website also does not specifically address Honolulu rail, the plagued project that her husband strongly opposed when he ran against Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, a prominent rail supporter, in 2012. Caldwell is also seriously considering running for governor next year.

Vicky Cayetano also includes animal welfare as a top issue, not the sort of platform that typically emerges in a run for high office. But then, the Cayetanos have seven dogs and two turtles.

“Kindness and compassion often start with how we treat animals, whether they are in the wild or domesticated,” her website explains.

Different Styles

Cayetano, born Vicky Tiu, is the sixth of nine children and was born in Manila, the Philippines. Her parents were Chinese immigrants who had moved to the Philippines to escape famine during the 19th century, according to her campaign biography.

Cayetano’s family moved to the United States in 1959, settling in San Francisco. She majored in business and economics at Stanford University but left before her junior year to start a travel agency.

Former Hawai‘i Governor Ben Cayetano arriving at press confrence where former first Lady Vicky Cayetano announcing that she is officially running as a Democrat for Governor of the State of Hawai‘i during News conference at Hawai‘i State Capitol grounds on Monday August 30, 2021. Ronen Zilberman Civil Beat.
Former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

In 1982 Cayetano moved to Hawaii, married and started a family. She later divorced and formed United Laundry Services in 1987, which today has branches statewide and employs almost 1,000 people.

She married Ben Cayetano in 1997, when he was governor and divorced from his first wife. Her work as first lady included preserving Washington Place, then the official residence of the governor, and helping raise funds to build a new residence located next to the historic Washington Place, both located across Beretania Street from the Capitol.

Cayetano’s candidacy had been expected. Her team includes Lynne Waters as campaign manager, Donalyn Dela Cruz as policy and issues coordinator, Alan Tang as executive director and communications manager, and attorney and former police commissioner Loretta Sheehan as campaign chair.

Asked how Cayetano would distinguish herself from experienced, well-known politicians like Green and Caldwell, Sheehan told reporters that voters are “craving integrity, honesty, transparency, decisiveness, and yet humility and kindness. These are the qualities I see in Vicky, and these are the qualities that people really want. We are really tired of business as usual. We really need people who mean what they say, and say what they mean. And that is Vicky Cayetano.”

For his part, Ben Cayetano said that he and his wife have different styles.

“Part of my problem, maybe, and she saw it, I was quick to be confrontational,” he said. “If I had to do it again, the eight years again, I think I would be a little more diplomatic. Because when you go after people, they begin to harden. And that’s the last thing that I think I took into account.”

He added that he explains issues to her, but that “she has her own mind about what she wants to do. And I never for once told her to run.”

He said his wife should be respected for her business accomplishments, including her leadership style.

“I am not a career politician,” said Vicky Cayetano. “I am an entrepreneur and a businessperson who is shaped by my belief that there is no problem too great that we can’t overcome together. No problem too small that does not need to be heard, and no solution that could not be found if we are determined to find it and we are committed to act upon it.”

The 2022 primary is Aug. 13, and the deadline to file for a race is June 7.

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