Dinengdeng & Pinakbet

A Cayetano Retrospective

Benjamin Cayetano: First highest-ranking elected official of Filipino ancestry in the State of Hawai‘i: 4th in a series.

Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran

Editor’s Note: 2019 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the election of Benjamin J. Cayetano as the Fifth Governor of the State of Hawai‘i and the first Filipino-American elected as the head of an American state. This is the fourth in a series of articles profiling Cayetano and his historic election and service. Versions of these articles appeared previously in “The Filipino Summit.”

Benjamin Cayetano and members of his cabinet.

Putting Together The Cayetano Cabinet, Part I “Get Yourself Down Here” When Neal Miyahira pulled his aching body into One Capitol Center, Budget and Finance (B&F) staff weren’t expecting him as the new deputy director.

In fairness, Neal found out himself just that morning in a phone call from new Budget Director Earl Anzai. Earl’s brief, growling order to get to the office roused Neal from a sick bed. As he settled into the deputy’s chair, he asked a B&F clerk to get his oath typed up so he could be sworn in officially. Neal then slipped his ever-present pencil from behind his ear to start taking some notes on the stacks of budget details sitting on the desk.

The outgoing Waihe‘e administration had prepared the 1995 budget proposal submitted to the Legislature. Eugene Imai, acting Budget chief during the interregnum between John and Ben, would be shifting to Comptroller atop the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS).

Over the next couple of weeks, the new Cayetano administration would need to review and refine the budget proposal and tweak it to reflect any revised priorities. It occurred only briefly to Neal how this appointment brought him back full circle.

After graduating from Waipahu High School, Neal received a part-time slot at B&F while attending the University of Hawai‘i. He spent his early government career at the department before shifting to session staff with his hometown representative, Benjamin Cayetano. He eventually went with Ben to the Lt. Gov.’s office where staffers like Neal were expected to be Jacks of all trades since other than ostensibly running elections, the Lt. Gov.’s responsibilities were largely dictated by the Governor.

While the Capitol underwent asbestos removal, the Governor, Lt. Gov., Legislature and a number of executive departments moved down Beretania Street to the Capitol Center, the then-relatively new Leiopapa a Kamehameha state office tower and One Capitol Center. Most offices resembled basic government-type spaces with DAGS regulation sized cubbyholes and modular furniture. The Office of State Planning, B&F and DBEDT, however, relocated into One Capitol Center, luxury hotel developer Chris Hemmeter’s former headquarters.

Hemmeter renovated and furnished the old YMCA for genteel opulence rather than function. While connected to the office tower by bridge, the ambiance in the two buildings differed tremendously. Anzai gruffly suggested off-the-cuff to some on the Cayetano transition committee he was thinking about moving the office to less ostentatious quarters.

One of them grinned and suggested Earl would change his mind once he actually saw the place. Neal guiltily found himself glad that Earl apparently did. Trying Classifieds Neal would have preferred to take a break after the 1994 election but as Chief of Staff in the Lt. Gov.’s office, Neal naturally moved into organizing and staffing the transition between John and Ben.

Governor-elect Ben Cayetano purchased want ads to advertise positions in his new administration. In public comments, Ben encouraged people to send in resumes. While dismissed by some cynical old pols as a public relations trick, the resumes and letters proved voluminous enough to require setting up a separate filing system and grouping applicants into department or issue interests and backgrounds.

Then-press secretary Randy Obata fielded calls about the ads from newspapers as far as the East Coast. But Ben’s idea to open up the process hardly surprised Neal and Randy. In their minds, having worked quite a while with him, it fit perfectly into Ben’s style to throw the process open. For people hoping for a job, after months of campaigning in various communities of the State, it created some discomfort.

During a political campaign, supporters certainly think about possibly working for the candidate—no matter how much they may deny it in public. As the campaign ground to a close, Randy asked if I would leave my Maui law practice to take a job in a Ben Cayetano administration. “Yes,” I answered without hesitation; Randy obviously never practiced law. “It would be good government,” I added, thoughtfully. Randy told me those kinds of responses from people–even if merely half sincere—made him feel better about what he was doing. P. Roy Catalani, a young partner at Goodsill Anderson, helped organize coffee hours as a low-level volunteer on O‘ahu.

Roy and I submitted resumes knowing some people on the committee might remember our names. Some like Hawaiian Electric counsel Kathryn Matayoshi got a nudge from Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono to apply. Lorraine Akiba, Jobie Yamaguchi, Kali Watson and others simply responded to the ad. Others got cold calls. Randy himself held his current job from an unsolicited letter applying for press secretary eight years before. All he knew of Ben was what he saw on TV.

As a neighbor island correspondent for KGMB, Randy first encountered Ben in person during a 1986 campaign stop in Kīhei, Maui—not a strong area for any Democrat at the time, let alone a liberal Filipino lawyer from Kalihi. But rather than adjusting his content or his style for his audience, Ben delivered his platform in his usual honestly blunt, plain-spoken take-me-as-I-am fashion. Randy liked it and remembered when he noticed the Lt. Gov.’s press job went unfilled for a number of months after that election.

The application apparently surprised Ben. He asked if anyone on staff recruited this Obata person. Frankly, no one knew Obata other than what they saw on TV. Peering over his bi-focals, Ben interviewed Randy, sharing what he wanted done and inquiring about Randy’s time in D.C. as a student and the years Randy spent reporting in Ohio and Hawai‘i.

Satisfied, Ben eventually offered him the job under communications director Jim Boersma. “Be like Jack” An anecdote Ben repeated over the years to supporters and at campaign stops concerned his one and only meeting with Jack Burns. That modern Hawai‘i Democratic Party patron saint appointed a young obscure lawyer named Ben Cayetano to an important State housing commission.

At a reception for boards and commission appointees, a young Cayetano asked Governor Burns why he’d been appointed when he’d neither campaigned for Burns nor ever met or spoken to the Governor. Burns responded he knew of very few Filipino kids from Farrington who had become lawyers. That memory obviously made a big impression on Ben’s view of how public service should work and what he would do if he ever was in the position to make appointments to the many boards and commissions that help manage and regulate the state.

From that experience as a commissioner, Ben moved on to four years in the State House, eight years in the State Senate and his just completed two terms as Lt. Gov. As Governor, Ben realized accomplishing many of the things he talked about during the campaign rested on his directors, deputies and other appointments. With twenty years as a legislator and Lt. Gov. under his belt, he harbored little illusions about micromanaging the bureaucracy from the top floor of the State office tower. For good or bad, Ben actually controlled fewer high-level jobs to fill; the most recent legislative session, perhaps anticipating a Frank or Pat victory over Ben, reduced the number of deputies and other positions available in the various departments. Taking out ads expanded the circle of people he could select from beyond his relatively small kitchen cabinet of former legislative colleagues, staffers, law firm partners and associates, family and friends.

While he certainly appreciated working hard and effectively on a political campaign, Ben did not assume those skills necessarily translated well to governing competently.

He wanted talent and merit. He wanted qualified people even if he had never met them before. The Gang in the Upper Room The period from General Election Day until the opening of the Legislature allowed a new Governor approximately ten to eleven weeks to interview, appoint and organize a team. The legislative money committees—Ways and Means in the Senate and Finance in the State House—often started hearings on the proposed budget a week or more earlier.

Ben wanted a group of advisors he trusted, preferably like Earl Anzai and campaign manager Charles Toguchi who knew the organization and operations of State government. Huddled in a state office tower conference room, along with newly elected Lt. Gov. Hirono, Ben also tapped campaign advisors John Radcliffe and Jimmy Takushi. Takushi had been a Jack Burns-George Ariyoshi cabinet member where he’d been one of the youngest appointees; he was now one of the more seasoned members of the Cayetano group.

The Governor-elect expected he could always call on confidants like up and coming attorney Colbert Matsumoto, others who advised on the campaign trail, and people he knew in the business sector for additional input.

Neal acted as recorder to keep the process orderly while maintaining as much confidentiality as possible. From the start, Ben relished the opportunity to shape his new administration. Some of his closest advisors recall he was clearly the lead participant in the process. He possessed definite ideas about the kinds of persons he wanted for certain positions. On others, he eagerly sought out opinions and suggestions. Burns-Ariyoshi veteran Takushi received the task of culling through all the resumes submitted although Neal’s small staff did organize lists for the other committee members to review of applicants and the offices sought.

On a board, they posted departments, possible names and combinations. Names shuffled on and off and onto other slots as the committee discussed names, contacted and interviewed people and received feedback on suggested appointments. “I Don’t Want the Job but I have Suggestions for Whoever Takes It” Some Waihe‘e Cabinet members expressed interest in staying on. For the tax department, Ben in his gut eventually decided to find someone new. Polling a number of local attorneys, Ray Kamikawa’s name came up. Kamikawa spent a number of years with the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco before moving his family back to O‘ahu. His wife worked for the late Senator Spark Matsunaga but aside from an Anson Chong campaign in college and lending his name as treasurer for Ed Case’s legislative run in Mānoa, Ray basically refrained from local Democratic Party politics.

Earl got tasked with contacting Ray. As with many calls made by Earl during the transition, Ray thought it was a joke from someone in his firm. Ray flatly turned down the notion of applying—he even wrote a recommendation for Waihe‘e’s tax director Rick Kahle. Ray mentioned, however, having some thoughts about improving the tax process.

On a Saturday morning, Ray received an audience with the transition committee. Other than Mazie Hirono, whom Ray remembered somewhat from the Anson Chong run, Ray did not know the others—Charles Toguchi, Jimmy Takushi, John Radcliffe and Earl. Ray proceeded to list his suggestions. He recalled everyone seemed to avidly take notes, including the new Governor that he had met perhaps once previously in passing.

Although Ray once again indicated he was not interested in a Cabinet appointment, at one point he was asked if he was a Republican. Ray indicated he was a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party. Too bad, someone noted. They were looking for a liberal Republican or two.

It was no secret Waihe‘e’s tax director Rick Kahle worked hard on the grassroots Cayetano campaign and wanted to remain in the position badly. In fact, tax professionals like Ray recommended Ben keep Kahle, a competent, experienced department head.

A week later, Governor Cayetano himself called Ray and offered him the position. Raised to respect those kinds of requests from a Governor, Ray decided he was young enough and foolish enough to take it. He was told the appointment would be announced at a press conference the next day.

Ray realized he would have to contact Kahle and his law partners to explain what happened. Fourth in Line: “I’ve reviewed the Constitution” If there was any judge that Ben esteemed, it was Simeon Acoba, Jr. Acoba, like Ben a graduate of Farrington High School, earned a law degree from prestigious Northwestern University. They shared offices when both struggled as two of a handful of young Filipino attorneys in the 1970s. A soft-spoken intellectual, then-Circuit Court Judge Acoba received some notoriety when he clashed with then-Honolulu Prosecutor Charles Marsland and his office.

A liberal who believed strongly in the rights of defendants, Acoba was not the sort to back down from Prosecutorial intimidation or their media appeals. But he no doubt loathed leaving the impression he was just another hot-headed Filipino kid from Kalihi, like his flamboyant friend in the State Senate, Ben Cayetano. He also wanted badly to sit on the High Court. When Gov. Waihe‘e named former Labor Director Mario Ramil to the Supreme Court, the supposed merit-selecting Judicial Selection Commission did not include the experienced Circuit Court Judge Acoba on the short list of names submitted to the Governor (even though the panel was rumoured to have included Acoba on a prior list for the high court). But Waihe‘e eventually had and took an opportunity to elevate Acoba to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Understanding that Simeon wanted to someday sit on the Supreme Court, Ben nevertheless favored approaching Acoba about serving as Attorney General. If nominated and confirmed, Acoba would be the first Filipino American Attorney General. But Acoba, for whatever reason, in the end, made it clear he preferred staying on the bench. Ben also highly respected Jim Duffy, a litigator at one of the most local of the Bishop Street corporate law firms.

The legal community recognized Duffy, a partner of Ben’s supporter Wally Fujiyama, as one of the best and most trusted lawyers in Honolulu. While the Harvard-trained Fujiyama would outwit, hometown and out-local the big reputation mainland lawyers in Hawai‘i trials, Marquette graduate Duffy balanced Wally as the epitome of gentlemanly poise and polish.

Tragically, just as Ben began gearing up his gubernatorial run, Fujiyama died during heart surgery. As one of the senior partners of Fujiyama Duffy & Fujiyama, Duffy couldn’t leave a thriving law practice, despite the temptation of public service, to serve as Ben’s Attorney General. While Corrinne Watanabe had served as acting Attorney General, there had never been a female lawyer confirmed as the State’s highest law enforcement official.

Transition members brought up and considered the merits of appointing Sherry Broder, Judy Pavey (Ben’s former partner at the Schutter law firm), Patricia Park and other female lawyers they knew. Applicants responding to the classified ad also included a number of women lawyers. One applicant, Margery Bronster arrived in 1988 from New York where she litigated antitrust and commercial cases at Wall Street’s venerable Shearman & Sterling law firm.

Bronster attended Brown University and then excelled at Columbia law school. The New York native met and married a securities lawyer at another white shoe firm. After honeymooning in the Far East, they relocated to his hometown of Honolulu. Her new husband, Mark Fukunaga, returned home to work at a growing business started by his family—Servco Pacific Inc. Bronster joined the reputedly oldest firm in Hawai‘i, Carlsmith Ball Wichman Case Mukai & Ichiki, as an associate. Originally formed in Hilo at the turn of the 20th century, Carlsmith staffed offices in Kona, Maui as well as Hilo and Honolulu.

A Los Angeles, Guam and Northern Marianas presence would follow. After only two years, Bronster made partner at Carlsmith. Like some newcomers, she observed the web of connections from the brief time she lived in Hawai‘i and how those ties often played into relationships, including business affairs. She also thought the Democratic Party certainly offered no coherent organizing principles, given its successes. People she would have expected to be Republicans—with fairly conservative viewpoints—held prominence and sway. She passed on getting actively involved in politics—although several Carlsmith attorneys held elected office, including Ed Case and Matt Matsunaga, and others participated visibly in the Democratic and Republican parties.

At one point, she did ask another young lawyer at the firm to give her a Democratic Party application. He apparently never followed through. Lawyers in and out of her firm assured Bronster the new Governor seriously wanted responses to the ad. Margery doubted she would be considered but submitted her letter of interest anyway. Unlike older, established partners with more lucrative salaries and careers invested in a particular firm, younger attorneys like Akiba from Cades Schutte, Matayoshi, Catalani and Bronster, could rationalize the idealism behind taking a substantial pay cut for the valuable experience flowing from political appointments to high government positions.

Some of her current and former partners provided comments. Colbert Matsumoto and others called peers and acquaintances at Carlsmith and other Honolulu law firms to get some measure of her. Bronster, aside from her marriage to a Punahou grad, claimed very few ties to Hawai‘i, the establishment or the status quo. Other lawyers, to the extent they were aware of her, viewed Margery as a competent litigator but without much trial experience when, in fact, she had tried more cases than any other lawyer at Carlsmith during her tenure at the firm.

The committee invited Margery in for an interview along with others being considered for attorney general. At that Thursday interview, she fielded only one question. How would she feel about being the Governor’s lawyer? Margery paused then explained she frankly didn’t see the job that way. She had reviewed the Hawai‘i Constitution and the statutes.

The Attorney General, she noted, didn’t just represent the Governor. The Attorney General also provided advice to the State executive departments and the University of Hawai‘i. The Attorney General also represented the legislative branch. Ultimately, she said the Attorney General represented the people of the State of Hawai‘i.

An uncomfortable silence followed. The Governor finally asked if anyone had other questions. Seeing none, he thanked her. As she stood up to leave, he asked whether she was a Democrat. Margery confirmed she was. When she arrived at Carlsmith the next day, the receptionist told her the Governor was calling. Governor Cayetano asked Margery Bronster if she would consider becoming the attorney for the people of Hawai‘i. He indicated he understood she needed to think about it and to perhaps discuss the offer with her husband. Ben gave her until 5 p.m. that day. The Attorney General sits fourth in succession to the Governorship behind the elected Lt. Gov., the elected Senate President and the elected House Speaker.

A woman that no one on the transition team knew very well had been offered the job. And Governor Cayetano stood adamant about the appointment. Budgets and Choices Ben purposefully excluded possible director candidates from the transition committee, including campaign steering committee members like Waihe‘e’s DBEDT deputy Rick Egged. Eventually, however, Ben ended up asking three members from the selection committee to join the administration—Toguchi, Anzai and Takushi. When Seiji Naya, a UH economics and Far East expert, and the Farm Bureau’s leader James Nakatani showed willingness to join the team, the group slotted Egged to remain at his current post.

In the end, Ben found it easy to pick campaign manager Charlie Toguchi as his new Chief of Staff. Charlie and Ben spent many sessions together in the Legislature. Charlie served as Schools Superintendent when Ben chaired and organized the task force on educational governance and later in implementing the A+ after school program.

Ben was comfortable and confident in Charlie’s many talents. He especially valued Charlie’s judgment politically and otherwise. Perhaps surprising to some, a decidedly shy man in a business requiring very visible and public appearances, Ben developed very few close friends and confidants. He considered Charlie as one of them. He also found no problem in calling on Anzai.

Earl staffed some of Ben’s key legislative efforts, including the heptachlor investigation, and later worked with Ben at the Schutter Cayetano Playdon law firm. In the just completed 1994 campaign, Anzai took no visible role and appeared rarely at headquarters. That was intentional, some campaign leaders quipped, since they wanted people to like Ben.

Anzai kept his distance, busy with a solo law practice and his contract to advise the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Observers simply noted Earl, for all his other talents, didn’t have very good political sense so he wouldn’t have been much use in a tight campaign at any rate. In contrast to the engaging and friendly Charlie Toguchi—perhaps expected from a well-regarded former teacher and politician—Earl conveyed a persona like a prematurely crusty old Japanese curmudgeon. Balding and bearded, even his friends recognized that Earl’s smiles resembled his scowls.

Anzai grew up in rural O‘ahu—Ka‘a‘awa. At heart, he remained a fairly simple local guy with a straightforward common-sense style. He worked several sessions as primary staff on the environmental and land committees as well as on the powerful Ways and Means Committee when Ben chaired that budget panel. With a background as a government auditor and experienced as a dogged personal injury lawyer, Anzai never shied from speaking his mind. As the transition progressed and the Cayetano group learned more details about the State’s budget situation, suspicion among applicants arose that association with Waihe‘e would be a problem if you wanted to stay on in the new administration.

While the Governor and others received some briefings about the fiscal state of the budget and the Hawai‘i economy during the campaign—notably from economist Gregory Pai and Egged—they placed little focus on the details.

Now faced with a looming State budget deficit, Earl advised that Ben’s visionary notions talked about during the political campaign should take a backseat to bringing the State’s financial house into order. It also elevated the influence—unnaturally, unfairly and even immorally in the minds of some of their Cabinet colleagues—of Anzai and B&F and Naya’s efforts at DBEDT to address the economic downturn. Of course, historically B&F always wielded tremendous power in State government by controlling the spending by the various departments.

Governor’s executive memoranda, drafted at B&F, required budget analyst reviews and documentation or set restrictions on the amount and timing of spending allowed by the other departments, and even the timing and pace of filling vacancies and approving promotions.

The budget cloud carried over at times into the interviews for cabinet directors. One applicant recalled being asked by a committee member whether she had ever fired anyone during her corporate career. The questioner explained that she should certainly expect to face that choice given the state’s budget situation. The woman ended up accepting a job anyway.

Next Month: Putting Together The Cayetano Cabinet, Part II.

Gil Keith-Agaran received a History degree from Yale College with an emphasis on American Intellectual History.

These articles are in no way meant to be a strict historical account because memories fade and perhaps get embellished, polishing the role of the sources over time, even among participants who lived these events.