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Photo credit: Honolulu Advertiser

Benjamin Cayetano - Former Governor of Hawai'i - Los Angeles Harbor College

Los Angeles Harbor College alum Benjamin Cayetano was born and raised in the blue collar community of Kalihi in Honolulu. His parents divorced when he was six and his father, Bonifacio, an immigrant from the Philippines, raised Ben and his younger brother, Kenneth.

Cayetano quickly realized that his lack of a college education stood in the way of better opportunities. In 1963, Cayetano moved to Los Angeles with his wife and two children to pursue a college degree. Cayetano enrolled at Los Angeles Harbor College to further his education. He worked hard at Los Angeles Harbor College and in 1966 was admitted to the University of California at Los Angeles. He went on to graduate from UCLA in 1968 and from Loyola University School of Law in 1971.

Recruited by a highly regarded law firm, Cayetano moved his family back to Hawai‘i where he was admitted to the state bar association and entered private practice as a trial attorney. In 1972, Ben was appointed by Governor John A. Burns to the Hawai‘i Housing Authority, the state agency responsible for developing and managing public housing for low-income people. This experience gave him an insight into the realities and potential for progress in Hawai‘i politics. Shortly thereafter, he launched his public service career.

Cayetano’s public service began with his election in 1974 to the Hawai‘i State Legislature. During two terms in the state house of representatives and two in the state senate, he held several important posts – including chairman of the senate ways and means and the majority policy committees, respectively. His well-earned reputation for independence, honesty and effectiveness prompted the Honolulu Star-Bulletin to name him as an outstanding legislator for four consecutive years.

Before serving as governor, Cayetano was elected in 1986 as Lieutenant Governor. His accomplishments in that post included reforming education, streamlining election laws and, most significantly, conceiving and implementing the nation’s first state-funded after-school program in 1989. After-School Plus (A+) is an affordable child care service that serves as many as 29,000 public school elementary children each year. The program’s stimulating and caring environment reduces the number of latchkey children and encourages them to attend school or be engaged in job training. The UCLA Alumni Association and University of Hawai‘i College of Education honored Cayetano in 1993 for launching A+, which consistently receives high approval ratings from parents for quality and effectiveness.

Cayetano kept his promise to make public education his highest priority when he was elected governor in 1994 by sparing schools from budget cuts at the expense of other state departments. He sought reform through the collective bargaining process, and in 1997 negotiated a contract that increased teacher salaries in exchange for adding seven days to the school calendar. Teacher salaries rose from $25,000 in 1997 to $34,300 in 2002 – a 37 percent increase. The contracts also rewarded teachers for professional development rather than seniority alone, and provided merit pay for university faculty.

Cayetano served as governor from 1994 to 2002 and is the first Filipino American to become a United States governor. Cayetano ran for mayor of Honolulu in 2012 but lost.

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