Former Hawaii First Lady Vicky Cayetano “definitely plans” to run for Democrat for governor next year, a move that could give her an advantage as a perceived political outsider in a primary race that until now was populated by well-known long-time elected officials. officials.
Cayetano, 65, is the wife of former Governor Ben Cayetano, who served as Hawaii’s first Philippine-American governor and served two terms as state chief executive.
Vicky Cayetano is the Hawaii region president of PureStar, which now owns several laundries in Hawaii, including Cayetano’s former company, United Laundry Service Inc. Prior to the pandemic, she oversaw operations on three islands with approximately 1,000 employees. , although the company’s staff has been reduced due to the COVID-19 erupted.
She served as co-chair of the campaign that propelled Honolulu mayor Rick Blangiardi to Honolulu Hale last year in her first campaign for an elected post, but said she has generally not been politically active. before this date.
Regarding the Blangiardi campaign, she said that “watching him look at things from a new perspective and bring his experience has made me revisit my desire to be in the public service.”
Cayetano said in an interview on Wednesday that she was putting together a team of people who would help her run her campaign in case she finally decided to run. Postal voting for the August 13, 2022 primary elections will begin in just over a year.
Cayetano, who is of Chinese descent, was born Vicky Tiu in Manila and raised in Chicago and San Francisco. She moved to Hawaii in 1982 and was President and CEO of United Laundry Service from 1987 until she sold part of her stake in the business in 2016.
She married Ben Cayetano in Washington Place on May 5, 1997 during her first term as governor, and Cayetano said she was a Republican until then. She changed parties to become a Democrat after the couple married.
Cayetano said she had learned most of what she knew about politics and government service during her five years as First Lady, and said she would bring “a fresh perspective to the next race. on the problems we are facing “.
So far, the two best-known alleged candidates in the 2022 gubernatorial race have been Lt. Gov. Josh Green and former Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell, both Democrats.
Caldwell has not officially announced he is running, but confirmed in a public appearance on Wednesday that he was planning a gubernatorial run, had met with community groups and had been organizing fundraisers for strengthen support for his candidacy.
“It’s in my blood. I am not ready to retire. I want to run for a higher position, ”he said.
Green said in a written statement that “Hawaii voters benefit from having multiple candidates to choose from as their next governor.”
“With the elections over a year away, I am striving to help our state recover from the COVID crisis and build a healthier future for ourselves, our keiki and our kupuna,” Green wrote. . He said he and his wife Jaime would make an official race announcement “when the crisis is over”.
Neal Milner, a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa, said it looks like Cayetano is trying to position himself as a vigorous new player on the political scene, but it can be dangerous.
“If I had to guess I would say what Vicky learned from Blangiardi is that one of the ways you lead is to emphasize your freshness in politics and your… impartiality,” Milner said.
But Milner warned that “people claim to want new faces more than they vote for new faces.”
“People may be fed up with politics as usual, but we have heard that before in this state, and we continue to elect politicians as usual,” he said.
He also warned that it might be harder for Cayetano to be non-partisan in a Democratic primary for governor than for Blangiardi in the mayoral race, which is a non-partisan municipal election.
Well-established civic organizations that tend to support Democrats – including public workers and other unions – will be very active in next year’s Governors Primary, which may have a relatively low turnout because it does not fall in a presidential election year.
New contestants also often stumble once the race begins, Milner said.
They can generate buzz and public interest early on, but “because they’re new candidates they make mistakes. They don’t know how to turn, they don’t know how to cover themselves, they don’t know how to give press conferences, and whatever she did for Blangiardi, she wasn’t running for the job.
She will also face well-funded candidates such as Green and Caldwell, he said.
One of the intriguing elements of the race is the role that Republican-leaning voters and independents might play. Milner noted that Ben Cayetano has been supported by Republicans in the past, including during Cayetano’s unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Honolulu in 2012.
Ben Cayetano made this race a referendum on the Honolulu rail project and was supported by a number of Republicans and independents who have long opposed the rail project. However, Cayetano lost that election to Caldwell, who was a staunch supporter of the railroads.
Milner said Vicky Cayetano was a successful businesswoman long before she married Cayetano, which might appeal to the Republican base as well.
“She’s definitely a big hitter. It’s just that the kinds of things that might work for her are also the kinds that might work against her, ”Milner said.