JAN. 6, 2018

Is It Time for Will Espero for Lt. Governor?

by Sheryll BONILLA, ESQ.

It’s been 31 years since we had a Filipino in high office in Hawaii, and Senator Will Espero believes it is time we give another Filipino that honor.  Ben Cayetano has the distinction of being the first Filipino American to serve as a U.S. governor, from 1994 to 2002. Before that, he was Gov. John Waihee’s Lt. Governor, from 1986 to 1994.  That’s the office Senator Espero hopes to win in 2018.

Governor Cayetano appointed Espero to the state House of Representatives in December 1999, to fill the vacancy when Paul Oshiro resigned from office to take a position in the private sector.  Espero had been the Executive Secretary of the City and County of Honolulu’s Neighborhood Board Commission, a post Mayor Frank Fasi appointed him to in 1987, when Will was 26.  He was the youngest person to serve in that position.  In 2002, he sought the Senate seat, which contained 80% of his House district, and won.  He has served as senator for the Ewa district since then.

Espero’s upbringing was like many Filipinos whose fathers served in the U.S. military.  Victor Espero, his father, is from Bacnotan, La Union, and dedicated 21 years in the U.S. Navy.  Paulina Espero, his mother, is a licensed practical nurse from Santiago, Ilocos Sur.  Espero was born in Yokosuka, Japan, one of his dad’s early tours of duty.  Will and his brother grew up living around the world wherever the Navy sent his dad.  Besides Japan, Victor Espero’s overseas tours included Naples, Italy, and Guantanamo, Cuba.  Stateside, Victor was assigned to duty posts to Jacksonville, Florida; Athens, Georgia; Norfolk, Virginia; Vallejo, California, and Oak Harbor, Washington.  Will graduated from Oak Harbor High School, then attended Seattle University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Management in 1982. 

In Victor’s final tours of duty, his talent as a chef earned him a coveted spot cooking for the officers, including the admirals.  After completing a career in the Navy, Victor and Paulina settled in California and became entrepreneurs.  They put their skills and training to use and opened a restaurant and catering service, as well as a care home.  Cooking up and serving meals for customers in a successful family eatery and food service required the family to work hard for long hours every day.  Paulina and Victor decided to retire and enjoy their golden years, closed the businesses, and moved to Hawaii.

Will moved to Hawaii in 1982, after graduating from college.  Working in the private sector for several years, he learned the very practical side of business in the finance and banking industry, property management, and local home development, and non-profit sector at the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii. 

Will’s chairmanship of the Senate committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, gave him face recognition to Hawaii residents.  Whenever there were issues with the armed services or happenings in the prisons, reporters came to Will for comment.  One of those military matters is an educational and memorial center at the site of one of the larger World War II internment camps, so that the lessons of history can be conveyed to generations without their own memories of it.  If you drive up to Kunia, up to the stretch where Walmart is, the internment site is hidden away in the agricultural lands across Kunia Road.  The ruins of the camp were discovered several years ago.  For several years, Will pushed for an educational commemorative facility, finally succeeding in 2012 in obtaining funding for an advisory group on how best to present the lessons of WWII at the former internment camp.

Will introduced more than 100 bills in his 18 years in the Legislature.  He has been a strong advocate and champion for affordable housing, ending homelessness, reforming law enforcement and the correctional system, building an aerospace industry in Hawaii, and supporting culture and the arts. 

Will’s close proximity to the homelessness problem and the military industry gives him a working knowledge of these two areas that so press on Hawaii.  A Senate staffer once jokingly chided Will’s younger son Jason for not dressing up in a suit and tie for the Legislature’s Opening Day ceremonies.  Jason responded, “I work with the homeless.  This is good clothes.”  Will is well aware of the hardships faced by the homeless in trying to come back into the mainstream, thanks for Jason’s daily efforts to help them.  Elder son Sean is a captain in the Marine Corps. 

The 2010 Census showed a remarkable shift in Hawaii’s demographics. Filipinos surpassed Caucasians as the most populous ethnic group.  Filipinos, like other East Asian nations, share a culture that puts emphasis on family, respecting elders, taking care of children, and being strong on marriage.  Filipinos are notable for their self sacrifice and perseverance in less than favorable conditions.  Filipinos work hard, live frugally, and send their earnings to their families back home in the Philippines, in money and large boxes of food and other necessities.  With the cultural characteristic of compassion, the majority of care homes on Oahu are operated by Filipinos, making consistently one of the best places for seniors in nationwide rankings.  Tourism, our chief industry, rests on the humility of Filipinos, who are willing to keep the hotels clean for visitors, a dependence that snowballs to benefit for thousands of others whose jobs depend on those tourists.  Filipino culture also places importance on education, resulting in high numbers of doctors and nurses and other professionals. 

These positive cultural characteristics tend to keep us from elected office, not wanting to call attention to ourselves and working in direct interaction vocations.  In the Judicial branch, only three Filipinos have reached appointment to the Hawaii State Supreme Court:  Benjamin Menor, Mario Ramil, and Simeon Acoba.  In the upcoming election for Lieutenant Governor in 2018, voter turnout will be a key factor, Will says.  The Filipino community in Hawaii would be well served to unite for a common goal of electing someone of our culture to higher office.  It is through helping our own to “reach the top” that our values and approaches can be put to good use in solving the problems facing our state.

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