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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 19, 2001

Cayetano's support lacking in visibility

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 •  Advertiser special: The Teacher Contract Crisis

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

As he enters the third week of a statewide teachers' strike, Gov. Ben Cayetano is remarkably isolated and doesn't seem to mind.

Gov. Ben Cayetano never worries "about being loved."

Advertiser library photo

Cayetano has complained publicly that fellow Democrats at the Legislature are undercutting his negotiating position, and the Hawai'i Democratic Party has been busy donating fruit and bottled water to the strikers.

Democratic Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris cozied up to striking teachers at a rally at Kapi'olani Park this week, and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono has been wading through picket lines and shaking hands since the strike began.

The business community that cheered Cayetano last year when he challenged the public employees' unions is strangely quiet today, while the Republican Party has been predictably critical of the governor's handling of the strike.

In fact, while the teachers are enjoying some very visible support on the picket lines, it's difficult to identify who is backing Cayetano as he navigates one of the most disruptive strikes in state history.

Cayetano acknowledged there aren't great numbers of people stepping forward to support him publicly, but he seems unconcerned.

"The important stuff to me is that I think that what I'm doing is the right thing to do," Cayetano said. "The easy thing for me to do in my last year and a half is to give away the store. But I never worried about being loved, you know."

Longtime party members, meanwhile, said that the way Cayetano has handled the strike has fractured the party as the critical 2002 elections are approaching.

"As a longtime Democrat in this state, I really suffer with the idea that this is a nail in the coffin of the political advancement of this state for the Democrats," said Rodney Foreman, a Kaimuki High School world history teacher who has been active in Hawai'i Democratic Party politics since 1958.

"I really suffer over this because I think that this is not helping at all."

Indeed, Hawai'i Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Lingle said the strike has prompted record numbers of calls to her headquarters from people who want to sign up with the GOP. She said more than half of those calls come from teachers.

Prominent political figures as diverse as Hirono and Lingle can't readily identify just who it is who supports what the governor is doing.

"I think you should ask him, because apparently he's been getting some e-mails from different people, maybe from people from the business community — I really don't know," Hirono said.

Former Gov. George Ariyoshi said he believes that the public sentiment remains with the teachers during the strike.

"My feeling is that initially people are very sympathetic to the teachers," Ariyoshi said.

However, he said, the longer that people see their children out of school, the more chance that people will begin to be more critical.

"Where it ends up depends on how they get affected," he said.

Cayetano said about 70 percent of the e-mail messages he has received disapprove of his handling of the strike, but noted that the teachers are obviously waging an e-mail campaign against him.

The positive e-mails were unsolicited, he said, suggesting he gives them greater credence.

He said some business leaders have told him privately they support him, "but this thing is so hot politically that not many people want to be public about how they feel." Some political leaders likewise have said they support him, but won't speak out publicly.

"The behavior of some of these people is understandable because what we're talking about is the base of the Democratic Party. We're talking about state public workers, and I can see why some of them are very concerned," Cayetano said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he doesn't believe that the governor is isolated, but said he doesn't expect to see any surge in public support for Cayetano.

"You will find that in strikes of this nature, people very seldom come out in favor of someone who recommends a cut," he said.

"I think people are beginning to realize that his positions were based upon the facts as they appeared.

"After all, the bottom line is money. If you don't have the money, you can't provide the raise, and that's what they're negotiating at this time."

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-8th (Wai'alae Iki, Hawai'i Kai), also said he hasn't seen any unified support for Cayetano.

"I don't think there's any organized group (backing Cayetano), mainly because everybody wants to be on the side of the teachers," he said. "You won't find the (Hawai'i) Business Roundtable saying, 'Right on, governor,' because it's really difficult and emotional to separate out the teachers."

Slom he said he agrees with the governor that teachers should not receive across-the-board "one size fits all" pay raises or pay hikes retroactive to 1999. But Slom said he is dissatisfied with the pace of negotiations.

"Had there been a Republican governor, this would not have happened," he said. "This is holding up the whole state and it's holding up the state to ridicule, nationally."

Stanley Hong, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i, said the chamber likes the idea of merit pay and it supports raises for teachers, but not if that means a tax increase. Exactly how much of a pay increase the teachers should get is "between the parties to agree to," he said.

If that sounds like a less-than-ringing endorsement of either side, that's because the issue isn't black and white, Hong said.

"I think you have in the community a division, and it's true also in the business community," he said.

"I would not fault the governor," Hong said. "Since he is a lame duck, he has come out with a very forthright positions and he is not budging from it because he does not have to run for re-election."

Even people who usually can be counted on to support the governor have been reduced to speculating about the possibility of a "silent majority" who agrees with him.

House Speaker Calvin Say, who has been generally supportive of Cayetano's government reform efforts, said: "... There may be a silent majority out there that don't want to say anything, but can sympathize and maybe support what the governor is stating ...: Can we afford it, yes or no?"

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Clayton Hee, who is a longtime friend of Cayetano, also said there may be people who silently back the governor.

Advertiser staff writers Lynda Arakawa and Robbie Dingeman contributed to this report.