CRAIG GIMA, STAR-BULLETIN / JANUARY 2006
Bob Awana, right, and others greet Gov. Linda Lingle at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines.
Awana’s busy political career skids to a halt
GOP leaders say Gov. Lingle's chief of staff had become a liability due to scandals
STORY SUMMARY »
Republicans say Gov. Linda Lingle did the right thing by jettisoning her besieged chief of staff, Bob Awana.
He had served as Lingle’s campaign manager.
"I think it is terrible, but the governor did the prudent thing," Sen. Fred Hemmings, GOP leader, said yesterday.
Awana is caught up in two federal investigations, one in which he was the target of a blackmail attempt, and the other a Saipan bribery probe. Awana has not been accused or charged with any crime.
In a terse, 87-word press release, Lingle announced yesterday that Awana and she "discussed his current situation, and we mutually concluded it was in the best interest of all that he resign his position effective immediately."
Lingle was not available to explain her statement. Yesterday she briefed her Cabinet on the resignation, but did not publicly explain the biggest change in her administration since she took office in 2002.
Hawaii Kai Republican Sen. Sam Slom called Awana "the second most powerful person in the state administration."
Awana, who was Lingle's campaign manager for her gubernatorial campaigns in 1998, 2002 and 2006, had made a lot of political enemies, Slom said.
"There have been questions for some time about his business dealings and personal dealings and his political footprint. Especially the hiring and firing in all state jobs seemed to go through Bob," Slom said.
While Slom said he thought the resignation will have a "positive effect," it may hurt Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona's campaign for governor in 2010 because Awana was expected to help with that effort. Aiona said he has not talked to Lingle about Awana's resignation.
Democrats generally declined to comment, but Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who had represented Awana in a 2005 civil case when he was accused of helping to divert money from the nonprofit labor organization Unity House, said that by resigning, Awana was trying to help Lingle. "He is trying to make this a non-issue for the governor," she said.
FULL STORY »
Gov. Linda Lingle used to call Bob Awana her "campaign manager for life," but yesterday she and her chief of staff agreed that he must go.
It was a low point in a political and public service career for Awana that started in 1980 when he became administrative director for Democratic Honolulu Mayor Eileen Anderson.
By 1997 he was a lobbyist for Waste Management, a landfill and garbage disposal company, when he met Lingle, who was then Maui's mayor.
While generally keeping a low public profile, Awana was seen as the operational force within the Lingle administration.
"There was no question about his strategic capabilities and his loyalty to the governor, but there have been questions for some time about his business dealings and personal dealings," Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head) said yesterday.
Awana has not been charged with any crime, nor directly accused of any impropriety, but within the last month his name has been linked with two federal investigations.
Awana cooperated with the FBI in the arrest of an Indian computer expert accused of blackmailing him for $35,000. He was also questioned last year in a separate public corruption probe involving a Saipan waste management company in which he has a stake.
Radjatta Patkar, 44, who has been living in Japan, is being held in federal custody in Honolulu without bail on five counts of using e-mails to threaten a person. He originally pleaded not guilty but is now expected to change his plea to guilty on Thursday.
Patkar "allegedly requested payment in exchange for not exposing or publishing the purported victim's unseemly e-mails to another person," according to court documents.
The federal government has sealed the case so it is unclear what information Patkar allegedly threatened to expose. However, KITV reported that the blackmail attempts involved Awana's alleged relationship with a woman in the Philippines.
Slom speculates that if Patkar pleads guilty, the full details of the allegations never will be known.
"I think there was far more damaging information to the administration that would be contained in a trial," Slom said.
In the Saipan case, federal agents last year questioned Awana about a government contract awarded five years ago in the U.S. territory.
Awana denied accusations of bribing Saipan officials to secure a waste management contract worth more than $1 million to run a landfill from 2002 to 2007.
Awana owns a 16 percent stake in Saipan Waste Management, which was awarded the contract and ran the landfill until 2005, when the contract was canceled by the new governor.
In 2005, Awana also was involved in a lawsuit between Unity House Inc. and the hotel workers union, Local 5. He was criticized for a $250,000 contract awarded him by Unity House for surveying Unity House members between 1999 and 2000.
The suit noted that after becoming Lingle's chief of staff Awana met 11 times with the late union leader Tony Rutledge, who wanted Lingle to sign a bill to help Unity House.
Lingle has said little about Awana's troubles. After she returned from a two-week trip to Indonesia and Japan, Lingle told reporters early this week that she had not yet talked to him about it.
Awana, however, has said that he told Lingle about both investigations when they began.
Thursday afternoon, Lingle refused to answer questions about Awana, saying she would "have nothing now."
But yesterday morning Lingle e-mailed a release to the news media saying "it was in the best interest of all that he resign his position."
Lingle then briefed her Cabinet, but Awana did not attend the meeting and has made no statement.
Besides the legal questions, Awana's departure leaves a series of political questions. No one was named to replace him.
Rep. Lynn Finnegan, House GOP leader, described the Lingle administration as set in three areas: policy, operation and communications. Awana was in charge of operations for the state government, Finnegan said.
But, Finnegan said, the departure "was the proper decision to make."
"He is going to have to deal with these legal issues and it was the appropriate decision," Finnegan said.
Sen. Fred Hemmings, Senate GOP leader, called the news "terrible." He added that Lingle "did the prudent thing, but it will cause a lot of political fallout."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.