Vicky Cayetano and the Filipino Vote

by Emil Guillermo

Vicky Cayetano, the former first lady of Hawaii is hoping lightning strikes twice and maybe even stronger as she seeks the governorship itself. Herself.

It’s not the former governor, First Filipino Ben. It’s Vicky, his wife. OK, second wife. But she was married in the official governor’s residence in 1997.

And she was in love she switched from being a Republican to a Democrat.

So is it time for a Filipina by marriage (of Chinese ethnicity but born in Manila) to lead Hawaii?

VC may not be the kind of high-tech big bucks VC that makes people quake. But she’s more than just Ben’s wife. She’s run a high-powered laundry business servicing hotels and hospitals. She undoes dirt for a living.

And yet the Hawaii Civil Beat/HNN poll shows Cayetano trailing badly in the Democratic Gubernatorial primary. Josh Green, the current lieutenant governor, is at 48%; Kai Kahele, the congressman who wants to be governor is at 16%.

Cayetano’s third at 15%. Cayetano trails so badly that one must ask some basic questions fundamental to what I call our “Filipinoness.”

But first, I know it may not seem like it, but when it comes to democracy, Hawaii is a kind of paradise.

Everywhere else in the country there is a force–from the Republican party to the U.S. high court– trying to make it harder for people to participate and engage in their franchise. In Hawaii, it’s just so hang-loose easy.

If you’re turned off by the recent corruption scandals in state government, Hawaii makes it pretty simple to throw out the bums (of all genders and persuasions).

Hawaii’s primary election is on Saturday, Aug. 13. That alone is a rare democracy perk to vote on a weekend and not a Tuesday. There are voters in other states that would love to vote on a day off. But Hawaii does one better.

For the second year it has mail-in voting, and the state seems to have embraced it fully. Ballots will be mailed to voters by the end of July, and though you can still show up and cast yours at a voting center on election day, the convenience of mail is a winner.

Hawaii seems to be smart enough to figure out that the fear of vote fraud is a fake argument intended to undermine your faith in democracy. But consider the national figures for mail-in ballots over the last two decades put the vote by mail fraud rate at .00006%.

There is a better chance UH will have a good football team this year.

Vote by mail with confidence. In August, and then again in November.

So, the question now is for whom?

And this is where Hawaii has it all over every other state.

You can vote for a Filipino.

Or vote Filipino. It’s a subtle difference. Does that matter? Of course, it does.

The Filipino Vote
There are more than 275,000 Filipinos, approaching 23% of the state.

We are big. Or as my dad would say, “dakkel.”

So, imagine a Filipino vote.

Not a Filipino boat where we all go sailing into the sunset. But a vote where we all go in the same direction and consolidate our power and fight with clench fists instead of lovely hula hands.

We’ve seen the power of Filipino unity in the mother country. 1987 dubbed it “people power” and no voting machines were used. People just showed up and expressed their anger, enough to oust a dictator who found himself exiled to Hawaii.

That we have the dictator’s family back in power 35 years later is either a disgrace or shows how impermanent things are in any democracy. And that makes it hard to understand such a thing as a Filipino vote, anywhere.

It’s something worth contemplating in a publication such as the Chronicle where the word Filipino is explicit.

It’s not necessarily a word implied in any of the top papers I wrote for in Hawaii. They didn’t call it the Filipino Star Bulletin. Or the Filipino Advertiser.

Nope. That wasn’t our voice.

And so as we approach the mid-term primary and the general election, it is important to ponder the idea of the Filipino vote because in Hawaii, as in no other state in the U.S.A, it actually can be a force.

There are even people to vote for since Filipino politicians are not rarity. In fact, some run so often, they make a mockery of term limits. They just keep popping up for power somewhere. Respect the ones who term out and don’t overstay their public aloha.

And maybe because we haven’t had so many inspiring Filipino/a candidates as we’d like to see, we are just used to voting for someone else.

Meaning non-Filipinos.

Which raises another question. Should we vote for each other just because we’re Filipino?

Only you can decide that if in politics there’s something deeper than blood.

You know when the liver sauce is watered down. Something’s not right with the lechon.

But in this political climate there is so much at stake. Nationally and locally. Abortion rights, gun rights, inflation, education, housing, health care. You name it.

Can you simply rely on voting for a face like yours? Or in someone whom you think can actually do some good not just for you, but for all of Hawaii?

If you choose the latter it makes being Filipino an irrelevancy.

But can the community be so large and ethnicity doesn’t mean a thing? Aren’t there some Filipino matters that have been long ignored? Being a Filipino elected, makes a difference.

That Civil Beat/HNN poll broke down the  Democratic Gubernatorial race  by ethnicity, and Green draws 47% of the Filipino voters to Cayetano’s 18%.

Is that misogyny? Or Flipogyny?

Green’s polling numbers show he’s built a real broad base of appeal. 59% white, 49% Japanese, 47% Filipino, 35% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

Green showed me some skills at the Chronicle’s big anniversary celebration two years ago. He was glad-handing and passing out state pins like treats. As the No. 2, he’s built his brand that gives him power to get to the top job. But he’s done it by building an ethnic coalition unique to the state.

He’s got Filipinos.

There still may be time for Cayetano in the primary, but her numbers show she doesn’t even have our support. Japanese Americans back Cayetano more than Filipinos, 24% to 18%.

We all know the political “Big Lie” is that Trump won in 2020. He didn’t. We know that.

Maybe there’s another smaller political lie that shows up in Hawaii as one considers the ethnic vote. The lie? That a Filipino Vote even exists.

It could be seen as a mark of maturity that Filipinos have gone beyond falling in love with every Filipino candidate they see. And that we’re just like everybody else who wants to vote for someone who can win and work for everyone. In a democracy, you can swipe left on Filipino. (If Tinder/Grinder were a voting app, left would not be good).

Maybe too, Cayetano may be old style. Time for next gen thought. Still, it’s not like a Filipino woman governor is a political cliché.

Of course, maybe you’re still questioning if an ethnic Chinese person born in Manila is Filipino enough. In the U.S. the standard is a Filipino born in America is American.

Or maybe the issue is you know the first Mrs. Cayetano. Fair enough. Or maybe you don’t think Ben would make a good Second Gentleman. Vicky Cayetano may not be the perfect example. But seeing a Filipino name for governor should make us all at least pause before we lick the envelope and cast our votes.

In 2022, our “Filipinoness” is still an issue. You know that in your heart. But is that how a Filipino votes?

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the Inquirer’s North American Bureau. He talks about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

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