Lingle taps assistant as chief-of-staff fill-in
Joy Watari will replace Robert Awana until the governor finds a new permanent hire
Former Chief of Staff Robert Awana's deputy has been named to replace him as the top administrative official in Gov. Linda Lingle's cabinet after Awana abruptly resigned Thursday night.
Like Awana, Joy Watari has been with the governor since her first run for state office in 1998, serving as an executive assistant to the campaign.
"She's extremely qualified, she's aware of all projects going on in the state," Lingle said yesterday. "And she'll do a great job while I search for a permanent chief of staff."
Lingle said Watari has served as deputy chief of staff for several years.
In 1999 as chairwoman of the state Republican Party, Lingle named Watari as an administrative assistant to the party.
The embattled Awana has been linked with two federal investigations involving corruption and blackmail.
Awana cooperated with the FBI in the arrest of an Indian computer expect accused of blackmailing him.
He was also questioned last year in a public corruption probe involving a Saipan waste company in which he has a stake.
Awana has denied any wrongdoing.
Lingle refused to answer further questions yesterday about on why Awana resigned.
"I'm not going to answer any questions about any issue that's pending right now," Lingle said. "I don't have anything more to add than the statement I issued on it."
In her Friday statement, Lingle said the two "mutually concluded it was in the best interest of all that he resign his position effective immediately."
The governor said she is focused on the future.
"You're going to see a lot of activity from our team in this next three and a half years," Lingle said. "With the majority of our time devoted on transforming the economy."
Lingle said she remains a close, personal friend of Awana and his family, and that she will missing working with him.
"Bob was very responsible for me getting elected to office in the first place," Lingle said. "I think everyone in the Cabinet, they're going to miss him because he was the go-to guy for them as well."
Lingle said she will keep the public posted when she finds someone to fill Awana's shoes.
"It should be someone who knows government, how it works and the different levels," Lingle said. "And also someone who understand the community's central role in everything that we do."
Republican state Sen. Sam Slom said he wouldn't be surprised if the chief of staff's responsibilities were spread out as a result of Awana's resignation.
"From an operational standpoint if I were governor, obviously I would still want a single person who is capable," Slom said. "But in the standpoint of practical politics, it would not surprise me if the job was diffused further so you don't have one person having so much power."