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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 23, 2003

Life after the office

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano no longer is a working politician. He recently moved into a new Honolulu home and will have to sort through about 500 boxes of career memorabilia and household possessions.

Photos by Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Cayetano file

Born: Nov. 14, 1939, Honolulu.

Education: Farrington High School, 1958. Graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles in 1968 with a degree in political science. Earned degree in 1971 from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Career: Practiced law for 15 years. Served in the state House of Representatives, beginning in 1975. Moved to the state Senate in 1979. For the last three years of his legal career, he was a partner in the firm Schutter, Cayetano & Playdon. He became lieutenant governor in 1987. In 1994, he became governor — the state's fifth and the first of Filipino ancestry. He was re-elected in 1998 and left office in December after Republican Linda Lingle was elected.

Family: Married the former Vicky Liu, president and CEO of United Laundry Services Inc., in 1997. He has three children from his first marriage: Brandon, Janeen and Samantha Cayetano. She has two children from her first marriage: Marissa and William Liu. He has one grandchild, Micah Ancheta.

Ben Cayetano has lost 10 pounds, and his blood pressure has dropped 10 points since he left the governor's office.

He sleeps an hour later than he used to, with his bichon lap dogs Yuki and Miki at his head and his feet, until he rises at 5 or 5:30 a.m.

The 63-year-old career politician says he is more relaxed than when he was in the public eye, making news with his opinions on everything.

In his nearly two months out of the spotlight, he's adjusting to the quiet life in his new house atop Wai'alae Iki Ridge, where the sounds of birds and a man-made waterfall replace the constant ringing of phones.

In some ways, leaving the governor's office has been like coming out of a tunnel.

"It's been more than 20 years since I've been in the waters of Waikiki, more than 30 years since I've been swimming in Hanauma Bay," he said. "I used to be a pretty good swimmer."

The last time Cayetano went swimming in salt water was during his first term as lieutenant governor in the late 1980s, when he would swim at Ala Moana and take his son bodyboarding at Bellows.

Now the former highest elected state official is rediscovering what it's like to live in Hawai'i.

He wants to get back in the water and get in shape to hike the ridge behind his house.

"I used to deliver frozen foods when I could carry 100 pounds on my back," he said. "Those days are over."

In another sense, he's ready to unload the weight of a back-breaking schedule. He wants to sit out on his lanai and watch the grass grow — once he and the neighbors figure out what to do about the wild pigs that have been rooting through the landscape.

"I want to smell the roses, you know?" he said.

His typical morning routine is to wake up and take his German shepherd, B.J., outside for a little exercise. He picks up the newspaper and heads for his computer in the den, where he catches up on local and national news, his e-mail and his stock-market portfolio.

B.J. has developed a habit of playing in the red dirt of the still-unlandscaped 2.7 acres Cayetano's wife, Vicky, bought in 1998 for $900,000. When they started building, the permit was for an $850,000 home. They've moved in, but the bare white walls have yet to be painted, and the tags are still on the palm-tree-print chairs in the sitting room.

The former governor has more time on his hands, now that he's home. One morning this week, he found time to give B.J. a bath, scrub the patio and wash his wife's car.

His wife is the former Vicky Liu, president and chief executive of United Laundry Services Inc., a successful commercial laundry that serves hotels. She was a child actor in the Elvis Presley movie "It Happened at the World's Fair" who went on to Stanford University and became a self-made businesswoman with a salary that was double Cayetano's.

Cayetano met her in 1995 during their early-morning workouts at the Honolulu Club. They married in 1997 at Washington Place.

In addition to five children they have from previous marriages, they have four dogs: B.J., Yuki, Miki and one other bichon, Summer. The dogs are like their kids, especially since Cayetano's English bulldog, Boomer, died.

When Vicky has time to come home for lunch or meet her husband in town, she often has two of the lap dogs with her because she takes them to work. Cayetano is more of a homebody, along with B.J.

"My golf buddies call me up and say, 'Hey, let's go,' " he said. "I tell them I've got too much to do."

The plain-talking Cayetano, known for his straightforwardness and stubborn will, is becoming a regular guy around the house. He doesn't watch much television, but he can spend hours sorting through boxes of paperwork, like old notes from his friend, fellow Democrat and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, and photographs like the one of him playing golf with Bill Clinton.

Cayetano spent 15 years as a lawyer before giving it up for politics. He says he's more interested in getting into the high-tech or bio-tech industries than pursuing any more legal or political ambitions. He spends his spare time reading biographies and political books, such as former Advertiser writer Tom Coffman's "The Island Edge of America," a political analysis of Hawai'i.

Cayetano has set his sights on writing his own book, perhaps with the help of a novelist. It would be a historical novel revolving around Hawai'i politics, with real stories and real characters veiled under different names. He would be among them.

The real Cayetano is a character full of surprises.

"I want to smell the roses, you know?"

Ben Cayetano
Former Governor of Hawai'i

"I'm sentimental, sappy," he admits. "I go to movies and I cry."

He recently had tears in his eyes on a plane, watching the end of the father-son tear-jerker "October Sky." His favorite films are the "Godfather" movies. He has the series on video on a window sill in his den, right beside "Pearl Harbor" and "Gandhi."

But his other passion is music. The other night, he went to hear the Honolulu Symphony Pops at Blaisdell Concert Hall. He listened to award-winning saxophonist Dave Koz and stood up with the rest of the audience to give a long ovation.

A simple pleasure like spending an evening listening to music would have been a rarity when Cayetano was in office. Now it's more of an inspiration for the Kalihi boy who played the clarinet in the band during his days at Farrington High School in the 1950s.

Cayetano bought a new clarinet two years ago that's still waiting to be broken in. When he tested it out in the governor's quarters, he quickly discovered he was pretty rusty.

"I stopped playing in Washington Place because people could hear me," he said.

Now that he has time to practice, only family members and the dogs are within hearing distance.

"I'm going to be sitting out here tooting my clarinet," he said. "And I bought a saxophone, too."

In a few months, Cayetano says, he might find some office space, hang up a shingle with his name on it and resist retirement a bit longer. His public life may be over, but the band of one is marching on.

Reach Tanya Bricking attbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.