Benjamin Jerome Cayetano

Benjamin Jerome Cayetano

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Benjamin Jerome Cayetano

"… No matter what kind of origin you have, you can succeed and rise to unprecedented. The American dream is still alive, but it definitely takes hard work and a lot of luck." This is a statement of Benjamin Cayetano when he was asked to give encouraging words to other Filipino American politicians. A lot of luck and fortune and hard work played a role in the life of Benjamin Cayetano, who is the first governor in the United States who is of Filipino ancestry. Governor Cayetano is today's highest-ranking Filipino American in government office.

Born on November 14, 1939 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Benjamin Jerome Cayetano was the son of Bonifacio Marcos Cayetano, who migrated from Urdaneta, Pangasinan to Hawaii in 1928 as a part of the first wave of Philippine laborers to work at the sugar cane plantations. At the age of 6, his father and his mother Eleanor divorced, leaving him and his 4 year old brother to take care of themselves on a latchkey existence, while his father went to work as a waiter. As a child, Cayetano grew up in the Kalihi District of Honolulu, a working class community dominated by a diverse group of immigrant families, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos. The Kalihi District is an environment where manliness and superiority were measured by one's ability to settle disputes by the use of violence rather than intellectual dialogues. Early childhood experiences in the Kalihi district were major influences to Cayetano's adulthood as he later became a feisty but effective lawyer.

Benjamin Cayetano graduated from Farrington High School in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1968. After graduation at the age of 18, Cayetano married his high school sweetheart, Lorraine Gueco, who according to him was "a major influence in his rise from a life of want to a life of means and power." A year later, when his first son Brandon was born, he was forced to worked a series of blue-collar jobs. In this period of hardship, Cayetano worked as a metal packer in a junkyard, followed by other jobs as a truck driver, gas station attendant, rodman, apprentice electrician, and finally as a draftsman with Hawaii's Department of Transportation.

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When a job posting for promotion in the department was announced, he took the exams for the promotion and topped it with a grade point of 99.9%. Cayetano lost the promotion to a Japanese American, despite his outstanding intellectual achievement. Later Cayetano found out that the interviewer was of the same ethnic background as the person that he lost the job to. A growing Family and this incident, which Cayetano calls "Asian vs. Asian" discrimination and a series of dead-end jobs was the turning point in the life of the young family.

In 1963, following a suggestion of a friend that he could earn a college degree in Los Angeles, California while working by attending night school, he and his wife Lorraine moved to California with their two young children. This was a big step for a family that has never even visited any of the other Hawaiian Islands. In Los Angeles, Cayetano worked as a draftsman for two years. At night he was attending school at Harbor College. His wife Lorraine took a job as a waitress at the Los Angeles International Airport to help support the family. Cayetano earned excellent grades at Harbor College, which enabled him to transfer to the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1968, Benjamin Cayetano graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in American History. After Graduation, he continued school to study law at Loyola Law School. In 1971, eight years after moving to Los Angeles, he earned a Bachelor of Laws degree from Loyola Law School. Immediately after law school, Cayetano and his family returned to Hawaii, where he started to practice law and joined the Democratic Party.

In 1972, his role model, hero, and then Governor of Hawaii, Jack Burns, appointed him to the State Housing Authority. This was a big surprise for Cayetano since Governor Burns hardly knew him. When Governor Burns was asked by Benjamin Cayetano as to why he selected him, he replied: "There are many Filipinos in Hawaii, and how many of them are lawyers? You are the only one I know!" This statement by Governor Burns gave him enormous strength and confidence.

In 1974, backed by his fellow Democrats, Benjamin Cayetano won the nomination for the Democratic Party to run for the State House. But instead of running for his district, the Kalihi District, where the majority of the voters are fellow Filipinos, he decided to run in the Pearl District, where a majority of 60% were Japanese Americans. Benjamin Cayetano thought that running in the Peal District would be a step up and a more challenging mission to accomplish. Cayetano won his endeavor of wanting to accomplish a more challenging mission by winning the election against a popular Japanese American incumbent. In his first year at the House, despite being a rookie, he became chairman of the powerful Ways and Means, Economic Development, and the Public Utilities and Transportation Committees. At the end of his term, he was selected the "Best Legislator" by both the Hawaii Observer and the Honolulu Star Bulletin, describing him as a "watchdog," and "key shaper" of the Legislature. Benjamin Cayetano was elected for a second term at the House in 1976, receiving the highest vote of any candidate. After his term at the House in 1978, Benjamin Cayetano ran for the fourth senatorial district and again was able to receive the largest vote of any candidate. This election made him the first senator of Filipino Ancestry in the Senate, where he once again was selected to chair the Ways and Means Committee. Benjamin Cayetano was elected three more times to the Senate where he was serving until 1985 for a total of eight years.

Throughout his 12 years at the legislature, Benjamin Cayetano has built a reputation as a maverick, winning nominations, and elections through effective leadership, outstanding accomplishments, and an enormous ability to listen and give back to his constituents. In 1986, Cayetano switched course I his political strategy from his reputation as a maverick, and joined the team of mainstream Democrats, winning the nomination for Lieutenant Governor with John Waihee running for Governor. Both were elected and re-elected for a second term serving two consecutive terms until December 1993. As Lieutenant Governor, Benjamin Cayetano was appointed by Governor Waihee to run the Afterschool Plus (A+) Program - a program dealing with day care, homework enrichment, and recreation, and also the leasehold conversion and school report.

In 1994, Benjamin Cayetano took a shot at running for Governor and won the election, making him the State of Hawaii's fifth Governor and the first Filipino ever to rise beyond state legislature and became the highest Filipino American in U.S. politics. He was re-elected to a second four-year term as governor on November 3, 1998, which he is currently serving until the year 2002.

Benjamin Cayetano has received numerous awards, which have given him national and international recognition for his accomplishments as a public servant, including his leadership in the movement for educational reform. The following is a list of the most important awards that he has achieved:

· Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year Award, UCLA, 1998.
The award is UCLA's oldest and highest alumni tribute and has been bestowed annually since 1946. The award recognizes the Governor as "a distinguished son" of UCLA whose lifetime of achievement "has brought great honor and distinction to the University." The Governor received the award during a UCLA ceremony in Los Angeles on May 30, 1998.

· Honorary Degree, Doctor of Public Service, 1998.
Loyola Marymount University bestowed this honor upon Governor Cayetano for his distinguished achievements and contributions to public service. He received the degree at Loyola Marymount's undergraduate commencement ceremony in Los Angeles, California on May 9, 1998.

· Distinguished Citizens Award, 1997.
The Aloha Council Boy Scouts of America has bestowed this award annually since 1983 to the person who best exemplifies the ideals of the Scouting movement. The Governor received the award in a ceremony on August 27, 1997.

· Harvard Foundation Leadership Award 1996.
Harvard University presented this award to Governor Cayetano for his contributions to American government.

· UCLA Medal, 1995.
The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) awarded Governor Cayetano its highest honor, the UCLA Medal, in recognition of his "remarkable record of public service."

· Distinguished Leadership Award, 1995.
UCLA's John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management bestows this award to those who "distinguish themselves through their outstanding leadership" and "give selfless contributions of time and energy to the public and the community."

· Outstanding Alumni, 1996.
American Association of Community Colleges Award given to alumni who are making outstanding contributions in their chosen fields of endeavor at national or international levels in the public or private sector.

· Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, 1995.
University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines.

· Award for Ethics in Government, 1995.
The Hawaii Chapter of the American Society of Public Administration honored him for contributions to ethics in public administration.

· Award for Excellence, 1993.
The UCLA Alumni Association honored him with this award which is given to outstanding UCLA alumni.

· Award of Merit, 1993.
The University of Hawaii College of Education recognized him for his contributions to education. His contributions included serving as chairman of the Task Force on Educational Governance, which produced a number of education reform measures that were adopted by the Hawaii State Legislature.

· Excellence in Leadership Medallion, 1991.
The Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health awarded him this medallion for implementing Hawaii's "A+ Program" in 1989 to address the problem of latchkey children in the state's public elementary schools.

Benjamin Cayetano's accomplishments as the Governor of Hawaii are numerous, which is why Hawaiian residents have a deep affection for him. He has helped Hawaii's agriculture by creating thousands of jobs thereby helping small farmers. He also promised to "promote diversified agricultural community based types of programs and support them through financing and funding." Now the state provides millions of dollars in agricultural loans to farmers.

Hawaii's Economy has tremendously improved since Cayetano took office in 1994. In his campaign statement Cayetano said that Hawaii "needs to develop a world-class economy that can compete in global markets for the export of our goods and services while attracting investment capital that maximizes the use of our unique human and natural resources. We need to diversify our economy and strike a better balance among economic, environmental and social objectives." Today Personal Income in Hawaii is rising and the unemployment rate is consistently decreasing. Businesses and corporations are being attracted to operate in Hawaii. Currently, three leading international high tech companies are operating in Hawaii. Tourism in Hawaii is at an all time high due to major events like football games. Last year, Hawaii built a world-class convention center, created the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and gave it 60 Million dollars to market Hawaii. Benjamin Cayetano also managed to lower the cost of living and the cost of doing business by signing one of the nation's biggest tax cuts -- $2 Billion over six years. Workers Compensation was reformed by cutting premiums by as much as 50%.

Education is a big issue for Benjamin Cayetano, as is for most Filipinos. He promised to build 11 schools totaling 900 new classrooms statewide. In actuality, over the past five years 13 schools were build. He signed a three-year plan to release over $200 million for the repair and maintenance of schools and universities. Cayetano has given teachers a salary raise, and added 7 days to the school year in Hawaii, which previously had the one of the shortest school years in the nation. He is planning to equip Hawaiian schools with more technologically advanced appliances such as computers. A legislation signed by Cayetano now requires students to gain computer skills and learn a second language. Today Hawaii is ranked #2 in the nation for fewest high school dropouts.

Benjamin Cayetano has signed several legislation bills to protect the environment. These include buying and preserving certain areas, building state parks, and adding to the work force that enforces environmental laws.

He restructured the government by reducing the size and improving Government Efficiency. In doing so, the state now has a surplus of $154 million, which is expected to grow twice the current amount by the end of next year. He has also improved Government Efficiency toward business by requiring state agencies to be more flexible to small business needs. Hawaii is also one of the most Welfare efficient states. The state has reduced the growth of welfare from 11% in 1994 down to less than 2% a year. Cayetano says that prudent management leads to savings. His philosophy is to reduce spending but spare education.

The Cayetano administration has provided more than $510 million for housing programs. Low interest loans are providing home ownership opportunities to over 2000 families. The state has awarded $13 million in funds to build project housing for low-income families and senior citizens. Several other programs, loans and funds have increased the housing opportunities for the residents of Hawaii. The Cayetano Administration has also provided $180 million to build homestead lots for native Hawaiians.

Cayetano has managed to bring the USS Missouri to Hawaii, creating 4000 new jobs and attracting more tourists. Hawaii is building an Army National Guard Armory for $1.3 million and is upgrading the Waiawa Armory National Guard Armory for $3.9 million.

Hawaii is nationally recognized for being #12 in the nation for lowest violent crimes, based on FBI reports. Funds coming from the Clinton and the Cayetano Administration are intended to reduce overcrowding in prisons by expanding the prisons' capacities and building new prisons. Cayetano has also signed legislation to increase the penalties for drugs, weapons, and violence-related crimes. Other issues include drunk driving, prostitution, graffiti damage, theft, and juvenile delinquency.

Cayetano has released millions of dollars to improve transportation in the state of Hawaii. Improvements include new highways, improvement of highways, expansion of Hawaii's harbors, and Highway Safety programs. The aircraft industry is creating more facilities thereby creating hundreds of jobs. More ferries are being put in service to increase transportation possibilities to residents and again creating more jobs.

Many more issues and problems have been achieved by the Cayetano Administration by releasing millions of dollars to spend for improvements and creating thousands of jobs for the residents of Hawaii. Since he has taken office, statistics show that Hawaii's economy has improved tremendously, which is why the people in Hawaii are very satisfied with Benjamin Cayetano.

Benjamin Cayetano's achievements in his political career are not of any direct significant importance to me since his achievements are for the people of Hawaii. I've chosen to write about him because I am a Filipino, too, and I believe that he should be a personality to look up to not only for Filipinos but also for all the other minority groups in the United States. His life is a perfect example of how people can achieve big things if they have set goals and it doesn't matter of what race or gender we are. I chose him as a role model because he is a public servant, which is what I'm am doing now with my involvement in the Filipino community as an officer of the National Filipino American Youth Association (NFAYA), the National Federation of Filipino Americans Association (NaFFAA), and the Philippine Students of Texas (PST). I have met the honorable Benjamin Cayetano at a conference in Washington, DC shortly after he was elected for his second term as governor where gave a speech in which he said: "I went through rough times and very difficult moments, but I have learned not to let anything hold me back. Instead, do what you believe in, and never, ever give up. With some persistence and determination, you just never know what you can achieve."


Cayetano, Benjamin. State of the State Address. 16 Mar. 2000.

Accomplishments of Governor Ben Cayetano. 16 Mar. 2000.

Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano - Biography. 16 Mar. 2000.

The Cayetano Record. 16 Mar. 2000.

"Benjamin J. Cayetano." Heritage. 10 1 (Spring 1996): 15.

Manzano, Ben. "Benjamin J. Cayetano." Heritage. 12 2 (Summer 1998): 32.
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