Dirty side of state politics
In his new biography "Ben, A Memoir, From Street Kid to Governor," former Gov. Ben Cayetano retells his story in the uncompromising style that guided him throughout his political career. This is the second of four excerpts from Cayetano's memoir and chronicles his successful bid for lieutenant governor in 1986.
EXCERPTS FROM CAYETANO’S MEMOIR
About 10 days before the (1986 Democratic primary election), I got a call from Cec Heftel.
(Heftel was running for governor, Cayetano for lieutenant governor.)
"Ben, it's going to be you and me against the Republicans in the general election. I'd like for us to meet at my condo at 1320 Ala Moana so I can brief you on my campaign platform for the general," Heftel said.
"Cec, there are 10 days left till the election; don't you think we should meet after the primary?" I asked.
"Well, he (eventual winner John Waihee) cut into my lead a little, but my polls say I'm still leading by 12 points. I don't think he can make it up in 10 days," he replied.
I wasn't so sure.
Heftel exuded a cool confidence when we met. The centerpiece of his campaign platform for the general election was a plan to establish Hawai'i as the premier healthcare center of the Pacific. He would use his strong connections to the world-renowned Mount Sinai Medical Center to help make his vision a reality. He had done his homework, citing facts and figures to support the proposal. I was impressed (so much so that I adopted his proposal during my 1994 campaign for governor). No small wonder, I thought, that this guy is a multimillionaire. "He's very bright," I told (longtime Democrat and Cayetano aide Lloyd) Nekoba later.
During the primary election, I'd often appear at campaign events with either Heftel or Waihee, or both. There was a big difference in their styles and personalities.
Heftel might have been impressive in the corporate boardroom, but he was a novice when it came to political campaigning. His speeches were flat and boring, without the spark that could lift a crowd. He showed little passion for his ideas and, more important, little warmth when he went around shaking hands as politicians are expected to do.
A friend who dined with Heftel on several occasions told me he was taken aback by his table manners. "He treats food like fuel, as if eating is something he has to do just to keep his body going. I don't think he enjoys it." I got the impression Heftel felt the same way about campaigning.
One afternoon, I attended a rally for Heftel at McKinley High School. There was a big crowd of between 1,500 and 2,000 people there. As I wandered through the crowd, shaking hands and talking to people, I asked an elderly Chinese woman whether she was there to support Heftel. "No, I came for this," she replied with an impish smile, pointing to a partially eaten roasted half-chicken in a box.
"A half a roasted chicken!" Nekoba exclaimed. "For 2,000 people? Man, Cec is spending big bucks."
Waihee's rallies were different. His crowds were boisterous, enthusiastic and emotional. Waihee's speeches were pure populism, delivered with great passion and often ending with Waihee dripping in perspiration.
Heftel must have known Waihee was chipping away at his big lead, but with a huge television buy to flood the airwaves with his television commercials for the final two weeks, he remained confident, he told me, that he could hold off Waihee.
Lurking in the undercurrent of the campaign, however, were two documents that were being circulated to defeat Heftel.
One was a political screed written by Roland Kotani, a Democratic state representative. A gifted writer, Kotani had essentially penned a long narrative about the contributions of the Democratic Party to Hawai'i and the importance of maintaining local values, indicting Heftel as just another Mainland haole who did not understand or care about local values or local people. In essence, Kotani merely regurgitated what many locals who did not support Heftel were already thinking. I did not think it was an effective indictment of Heftel himself.
The other document, however, was potentially far more damaging. It bore the imprimatur of the U.S. attorney general. Several weeks before the primary election, copies of a five-page confidential summary of an investigation by the U.S. attorney general of allegations of sexual misconduct by, among other people, U.S. Congressman Cecil Heftel were circulated to about 20 people, including some news reporters.
The summary included a confidential report of an informant's 1983 hearsay statement to a drug-enforcement agent accusing Heftel of involvement in drugs and sexual relations with "young males and females," suggesting that Heftel was a bisexual pedophile.
To their credit, the news reporters did not cover the document. No one knew for sure whether only 20 people received copies, so it was difficult to determine the impact of the document on voters. All through the primary, traveling throughout the state, not once did I hear anything about the document.
In the election, Waihee defeated Heftel with 44.8 percent of the vote, with 35.6 percent going to Heftel.
The day after his defeat, an angry Heftel blamed the Democratic establishment for circulating the smear against him. Leaking federal documents is a crime. The governor ordered the state attorney general to conduct an investigation to find the source of the leak. A Mainland expert was brought in to conduct the investigation. Working on the proven theory that no two copy machines produce like copies and that each copy machine has its own "fingerprint," the expert traced the document to a copy machine in the office of city prosecutor Charles Marsland, a Republican. Many suspected that Rick Reed, Marsland's deputy and confidant, was behind the leak. Reed was a born-again Christian and had been associated with a local religious sect headed by a guy named Chris Butler. Reed had made attacking Democrats a personal crusade, leveling all kinds of wild charges. His choirboy looks belied a dark side. As far as I was concerned, he was the reincarnation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
During the primary election campaign, Neil Abercrombie, Duke Kawasaki and I met with Frank Fasi, who, having been elected mayor in 1984, was sitting out the 1986 governor's race. Abercrombie and Kawasaki had a good relationship with Fasi (Kawasaki would later become Fasi's deputy director). I went along for the ride.
Fasi told us that Heftel "would never win the election."
"The Republicans have a 'red book' on Heftel," he said. "He'll never make it." (Fasi would later deny he ever said this).
In postelection coverage of the smear, the news media stories focused on Heftel's angry allegations that the Democrats were responsible. What the news media missed, however, was the probability that the Republicans preferred to face Waihee rather than Heftel in the general election.
Republicans preferred to run against Waihee, because Heftel could draw the votes of the haoles and businessmen who made up the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party — Waihee could not. It was not in the best interest of Republican gubernatorial candidate Andy Anderson to run against a Democrat like Heftel who could take votes from Anderson's Republican base.
No one really knows if the "smear" was a reason for Heftel's defeat. During the campaign, I met and talked to hundreds of people. Except for the conversation with Frank Fasi, not once did I hear anyone suggest that such a document existed or that Heftel was a homosexual; I heard nothing derogatory about his personal life. And when I met with Heftel at his condominium to plan our campaign for the general, he never uttered a word to me that such a document existed or that the Democrats were trying to smear him. I only found out about the document after the primary, when Heftel charged that he had been smeared.
One of Waihee's bumper stickers had the words "Heart and Soul" emblazoned on it. And that's what the 1986 primary election amounted to; I believe that Heftel lost not only because he ran a poor campaign and was a passionless campaigner — he lost because too many voters concluded that he did not have the heart to be governor of Hawai'i.
John Waihee and I would go on to defeat Andy Anderson and Pat Saiki in the 1986 general election. For the next eight years, I served as lieutenant governor. It would be the most frustrating period of my nearly three decades in Hawai'i politics.