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Benjamin Cayetano, Governor of Hawaii

  • By Wendy Soderburg
  • Published Aug 7, 2000 8:00 AM

Born in industrial Kalihi, Hawaii, Benjamin Cayetano and his younger brother were products of a broken family. The boys were raised by their father and lived something of a "latchkey" existence before there was a word for it.

As a teen, Cayetano aspired to a law career but thought it could never be achieved. Becoming the nation's highest-ranking Filipino American in elected office never even crossed his mind.

"In that society at that time, it was virtually unthinkable that someone like me could have a shot at it," he says. Despite having no Filipino role models, Cayetano continued to study hard until his junior year in high school. Then things went downhill.

"I got too interested in cars and other things, and I was on the verge of flunking out," Cayetano says. What probably saved him from a life of juvenile delinquency, he says, was his marriage to his high school sweetheart in 1958. He managed to squeak through high school, saw the birth of his son and immediately went to work to support his family.

After a series of dead-end jobs-metal-packer in a junkyard, truck driver, apprentice electrician, draftsman-Cayetano got fed up with what he viewed as racially motivated, politically unfair hiring practices in Hawaii. "Within the Asian American group, the Filipinos were last on the [socioeconomic] ladder," he says. In 1963, he packed up his family and moved to Los Angeles.

Cayetano completed two years at Los Angeles Harbor College before transferring to UCLA in 1966, where he pursued his goal of a law career by majoring in political science with a minor in American history. After graduation, he attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, earning his law degree in 1971. It was then that he decided to return to Hawaii to "get involved at home."

His public service career began in 1972 with an appointment to the Hawaii Housing Authority. In 1974, he won a Democratic seat in the state House of Representatives from the Honolulu district of Pearl City; 12 years later, he was elected to his first four-year term as lieutenant governor. In 1994, Cayetano became the first Filipino-American governor in this country's history.

"As long as my constituents keep me in office, I'll do my best to maintain the quality of life that makes Hawaii a very, very special place," the governor says.