Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell wrote an opinion piece on Governor Lingle's handling of the Bob Awana issue in today's Advertiser. Here's the text:
In June, when Bob Awana, the second most powerful official in the executive branch of Hawai'i state government, resigned under a cloud, Gov. Linda Lingle issued an 87-word written statement and declared she would say no more on the subject to the press or anyone else.
Today, half a year later, she is blaming the news media for sensationalizing the issue and making it a distraction to state business. This is a classic case of blowing out the candle and cursing the darkness.
Here's what the governor should have done in June.
First, she should have practiced the principles of openness and public availability that she promised to bring to office. She could have accomplished this by sitting down with the news media, rather than shutting them out. There were legitimate questions that needed answers. For example, when did she become aware that Awana was being blackmailed? Was the resignation jointly arrived upon? Did she have concerns about the allegations of special favors being offered to members of the diplomatic mission she had led? If Awana were cleared, would she bring him back either into her administration or as her campaign manager?
She also could have drawn a firm and reasonable line about personal issues that should be of no interest to the news media or the public. Off limits is just that.
It would have been a difficult news conference. But as a former journalist herself, the governor knows that arbitrarily cutting off the press on her terms was an invitation for them to dig deeper. That is their job.
Second, she could have ordered her attorney general to conduct an investigation into any possible legal or ethical wrongdoing involving Awana in the organization and conduct of her trade missions. In her recent castigation of the news media, she told us that she has not been approached by federal investigators about these matters and has no reason to believe that there was misconduct.
But she is the governor, with the power to launch investigations. She should not be waiting for someone else to ask. She is the chief executive; something went wrong on her watch; she should have taken the initiative to get to the bottom of things. That is what leaders do, especially in this age of transparency.
There is a growing pattern here that with each event becomes more troubling. We appear to have a governor who leads effectively enough when things are under control, but lacks the flexibility to handle the heat, especially if it is too close to her.
In the Superferry debate, Gov. Lingle steadfastly refused to acknowledge that her administration had made an error in granting a waiver for an environmental review on ferry-related improvements to the Maui harbor. This failure, which appears to have directly involved Awana and his newly announced replacement Barry Fukunaga, compounded problem-solving throughout the special legislative session. Her denials raised the heat level rather than lowering it. An effective leader today would have said, "We made an error and let's fix it."
Gov. Lingle should consider returning to the style of leadership she promised when she was elected. We have all learned that things can go wrong in life, but denial only makes them worse.