A Compassionate Leader
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Vicky Cayetano exudes this characteristic in her run to become Hawai‘i’s next governor.
For decades, Vicky Cayetano has lived a life of public service, even though she’s never held a civic job in her life. While most know her for her successful business ventures, many more are familiar with her community work in areas like the fair adjustment of unemployment taxes, advocating for animal rights and helping create Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra after Honolulu Symphony went bankrupt. And for the woman who’s been named Girl Scouts of Hawai‘i’s 2000 Woman of the Year, one of YWCA O‘ahu’s 2011 Women of Achievement, and a University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa School of Travel Industry Management Legacy in Tourism award recipient, among others, the next step to give back to her island home is a big one — and she’s ready to take on the challenge as a Democratic candidate for Hawai‘i governor.
If chosen as the top contender following the Aug. 13 primaries, she’ll continue to the general election Nov. 8.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Cayetano is already proving to be a different kind of leader, one who combines decisive action and innovation with empathy and a family-first focus. She wants for Hawai‘i what she’d want for her own ‘ohana — a home in which they can prosper.
“I expect people to thrive, not just survive,” she says. “That’s the kind of state our people deserve, and no less than that.”
For Cayetano, she plans on doing things the same way she lives her life: transparency in decision-making, accountability for the decision-maker and an urgency to get things done. With those three pillars in place, the 66-year-old is ready to hit the ground running.
“At the heart of everything I’m doing is to have a Hawai‘i for our young people, who are our future, where they can thrive,” says Cayetano, who is mom to Marissa and William, step-mom to Brandon, Janeen and Samantha, and a grandmother of four.
This means looking at issues holistically, with the understanding that it’s all interconnected.
As Cayetano sees it, the requirement of making housing affordable barely scratches the surface. Also of importance are the jobs available for residents — outside of the service and hospitality industries there aren’t many — as well as educational opportunities the state affords its residents. But, again, that’s only a glimpse of what would make Hawai‘i a place local residents can flourish.
“We’re talking about cost of living, but who wants to live in a Hawai‘i where crime keeps escalating or homelessness takes over?” she continues.
Health care is also critically important, especially on the neighbor islands. And making sure that independent physicians and larger health care systems receive the support they need to serve our residents will be a priority.
Keeping in line with a holistic view of change, her ideas for a thriving Hawai‘i are many. She believes that the state can expand industries like film and digital media, information technology, cybersecurity, health care, veterinary medicine, animal welfare, the arts, music and so much more.
“My father used to say that just as you need food for the body, you need music for the soul,” recalls Cayetano, who comes from a musical family that includes older sister Ginny Tiu, a world-renowned pianist. “Just imagine when you hear music what it does to you; it calms or energizes you. It has a very significant impact on how you feel.”
The same goes for arts of all mediums, and Cayetano places high importance on cultivating Native Hawaiian and indigenous art and artists.
“The arts are a very important part of our creative world, not just in the arena of education and entertainment but also in the area of business,” Cayetano notes. “Those who are creative can bring that line of thinking into how they look at business, and this is another innovative way of solving our issues.”
Close to her heart is her abundant love for animals of all kind. While she prefers dogs to cats as house-pets, she also believes that all animals deserve support, and not just from the counties alone. “The state also could have a role to play in dealing with the abundant feral cat community and supporting the Humane Society network. The way a human being treats animals is one indication of how they might relate to other people. The least among us deserve our respect and care.”
She envisions a Hawai‘i in which dogs are more welcome in the community — with proper guidelines, of course. While this is a little self-serving (she’s “mom” to seven dogs and two turtles), she also sees huge emotional benefits for the tens of thousands of dog owners across the state.
“Why can’t we do things like that?” she muses. “We have to be able to think more creatively, think outside of the box than what we’ve been doing for the past 50 years. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but these are different times now and we need to move forward.”
Issues like affordable housing, cost of living and homelessness have plagued the state for decades with no resolution. Promises have been made since statehood but not delivered. This lack of change has led to an increase of people leaving their island home and families in search of more fiscally accommodating places. And, for Cayetano, this mass migration away from Hawai‘i hits particularly close to home. Just recently, her son William moved to the mainland, where more opportunities are available to support his growing family.
“A lot of people experience this,” Cayetano notes. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. If the young people are the future of Hawai‘i, and if they’re leaving the state, what kind of future can we hope to have?
“We are at a very critical time where our economy and children are impacted, and I don’t think people talk enough about that,” she says.
It’s why she welcomes any and all feedback. In fact, one of her favorite parts about the campaign so far is being able to listen to people from all walks of life, who immediately take to her caring nature and pour out their pain, hurt and frustration.
“I’m committed to coming up with solutions — not just for another committee to analyze it for the next four years — I want to get things done, no ifs, ands or buts about it. We are going to move forward with action because there is no time to waste.”
Action, however, is only one part of the equation, and Cayetano balances a go-getter attitude with natural empathy. It’s this best-of-both worlds approach that allows her to accomplish so much in areas of greatest importance.
“It’s extremely critical at this time to recognize that we’re at a tipping point,” she notes. “I believe it’s time for leadership with a new mindset and set of skills that produce results.”
And it isn’t just about solving the most pressing problems. Those are merely first steps. Instead, Cayetano envisions a Hawai‘i where residents not only survive but also thrive. To do that, the aloha state needs a new kind of leadership, and one that Cayetano is confident she can provide.
If elected, she’ll be the first to enter the position since statehood who isn’t an attorney or lifetime politician.
“That’s not to say law or politics is bad, but what it does mean is that you have a very different mindset,” she notes. “As attorneys, and my husband is an attorney, they’re very risk averse. They look at all the things that will go wrong. When you have that mindset, you can’t create a new world that we desperately need.”
Change, therefore, requires innovation, and Cayetano, an entrepreneur at heart, knows a thing or two about evoking positive transformation. She formed her own tourism agency as a young woman, sold it, and moved to the 50th state and, ever the forward-thinker, started United Laundry Services in 1987. For the past 34 years, she’s been at the helm, growing the startup with 25 employees into the state’s largest laundry company. She’s since left the post to start her gubernatorial campaign, believing that public servants, especially those at the highest level, should be fully vested in the position they’re seeking.
“I know in my business, I would expect nothing less than to be 110% into the position,” she shares. “And that’s what I’m doing, just even in campaigning. I have already left the business I love that I’ve worked at for so long. There can be no compromise in commitment and dedication, unlike my opponents, who think otherwise, I know that being governor is a full-time job.”
Cayetano is no stranger to practicing what she preaches, so when she says she has plans to get things done, it’s prudent to take her at her word.
“No more talk; we need action and resolution. I will do everything that’s needed to finally deliver the results that the people of Hawai‘i deserve,” she says.
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