Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Pungent anti-Cayetano ads derailing his momentum

By Richard Borreca


A s former Gov. Ben Cayetano is finding out, the problem with running against the establishment is that it makes the establishment your enemy.

The 72-year-old liberal, two-term governor appears to be losing his fight for mayor against a relentless, multimillion-dollar attack operation.

The assembled political machine of Democratic Party leaders, local business and construction leaders and island unions has been out to discredit him, weaken his political message and ruin his reputation in order prevent him from stopping the long-planned $5.2 billion rail project.

The latest Hawaii Poll, released today, shows Kirk Caldwell strongly ahead of Ben Cayetano. The poll, with a margin of error of 4.2 percent, shows that if the election were held today, Caldwell would get 53 percent of the vote and Cayetano, 42 percent.

Rebecca Ward, president of Ward Research, which prepared the survey for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now, says Cayetano now faces an almost impossible task of rebuilding enough support to win by Election Day.

"Given the significant drop in support, it is hard to imagine anything that would reverse this now," Ward said.

The reason, obviously, is the smear campaign run by the Carpenters Union and contractors' Pacific Resource Partnership.

"This is an indication that the PRP negative campaign has taken its toll," Ward said.

For decades, Cayetano has been unconvinced that Honolulu is big enough for the huge, heavy, elevated rail system that has been proposed for Honolulu. Along the way, he became equally convinced that our withering financial base could not support the increasing billions of dollars in taxpayer money needed to build and operate the system.

That concern finally led him to run for mayor to stop it. His opposition was buttressed by Honolulu's inability to fix its roads, repair its sewers, keep its parks open or operate many services that are common across the country.

The decision to run was unorthodox; even Cayetano remarked, "Who ever heard of a governor running for mayor?" Early polling, however, showed that the marginal support for rail was evaporating at the same time that Cayetano's campaign was showing viability.

The cobbled-together Cayetano campaign relied on old friends, wealthy supporters including Dennis Mitsunaga and a healthy dose of ethnic appeal from Filipino-Americans.

As the campaign progressed, Cayetano's close ties with Filipino voters, even those with union jobs that might be lost if the rail project was canceled, appeared to be the rock upon which to build the campaign.

The PRP smears came during the primary election and redoubled during the closing weeks of the general election.

Cayetano's Filipino base has been pummeled. At the beginning of the campaign, 62 percent of Filipino-American voters supported Cayetano and 58 percent of Filipino voters opposed rail, the Hawaii Poll showed. The support is now down to 51 percent and only 40 percent say rail should be stopped.

By the end of the campaign, Cayetano was a battered candidate. He had been attacked not for any issues involving the rail project nor his ideas for rebuilding Honolulu.

The attack came for taking improper campaign contributions that in truth he knew nothing about, attacked for approving legal contracts, absurdly linked to Mitt Romney and Linda Lingle, and finally criticized for the number of pardons given while governor.

"Talking stink" now appears to be Hawaii's most potent form of political communication.

Of course, anything is possible in a campaign — but it appears that Cayetano's campaign has been shredded by a group of Democrats, unions and businesses able to spend millions to force rail forward.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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