Democrat Fukunaga finds Lingle job fine
The new chief of staff joins the governor after the ferry fiasco
Barry Fukunaga left City Hall three years ago thinking he was going to retire after 30 years of government service.
Then Gov. Linda Lingle and Chief of Staff Bob Awana persuaded the career state and city executive to come back to the state Transportation Department, where he had been named manager of the year in 1994.
"Retiring was my original plan when I left the city. Now I am glad to be part of something that is important to the people of Hawaii," Fukunaga said last week.
The tall, gray-haired former B-52 pilot during the Vietnam War is now Lingle's chief of staff, charged with implementing Lingle's directives among Cabinet members and working with the state Legislature.
Fukunaga is a Democrat in a Republican administration but says he does not feel out of place.
"My philosophy is the same. I don't see any difference working with the governor. She is very people-oriented, very concerned about what we do for the state and the welfare of the state," Fukunaga said during an interview in his office.
"The governor believed I was someone she could count on. Working with the governor is really unique. Part of the reason I came back to the state was because I met her and Bob Awana.
"They were down-to-earth, straightforward people. I was impressed with their integrity and willingness to allow me to contribute," Fukunaga said.
Awana resigned after a messy scandal broke. He had been blackmailed by an Indian national who learned that Awana was having an affair with a woman in the Philippines. The foreigner was arrested and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of blackmail. Awana left public service.
Fukunaga, who had gone from deputy director for state harbors to transportation director, was promoted to chief of staff.
"Barry has a tremendous understanding of state and city government and has proven to be an outstanding manager and leader," Lingle said upon his appointment.
He has was the person most under fire during the heated summer battle over permitting the Hawaii Superferry to sail.
It was Fukunaga who, in his position in the Department of Transportation, decided that the state construction done to permit the Superferry to sail did not require an environmental impact statement. After an adverse state Supreme Court ruling, the Legislature went into special session to carve out an exemption for the ship to sail while the impact statement is being performed.
"We looked at whether it involved major construction, and in my view it did not," Fukunaga said.
"We were also cognizant that the Superferry's loan guarantee necessitated it not having to go through a long, protracted environmental review process," he said.
Today he says he is glad that he worked to help the ship resume operations.
"I'm hoping for its success. It is important to have these options," Fukunaga said.