Recently, racist, sexist, and pornographic emails were found on HTA Director Rex Johnson’s official business computer at the State’s Hawaii Tourism Authority.  Is this considered State business?

Forwarding personal, sexist and racist emails from the state’s computers is bad enough, but discovering them, recognizing their inappropriateness, and standing by idle while politicians downplay and misrepresent the content of the emails and the actions of the Director, is another.    Allowing “politics as usual” to get in the way of doing the right thing is an even bigger violation of our trust in government.

State of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle

Most of us are aware of biblical story of Judas and his unforgettable betrayal of Jesus Christ.  A great number of us will, in our life time, experience an act of betrayal at the hands of a coworker, friend, professional, or other entity.  But, we will survive the heartbreak and disappointment such an act presents.  The severity or implications of the impact are amplified when government or elected officials betray or squander the trust of the people that have voted them into office or supported their appointments.

Here in Honolulu, Hawaii, the African-American community has recently been subjected to an act of betrayal that boggles the mind and leaves a poignant stench of the racism and bigotry that once took place in small, rural one-horse towns where the standing rule was all African-Americans had to be out of the City limits before sundown, or were rousted out of their homes in the middle of the night to be whipped and beaten by men in white sheets and masks.

Though African-Americans here in Hawaii don’t have to be out of the City limits by sundown, and we don’t get dragged from our homes and beaten, many of us have to cope with subtle acts of discrimination and disparate treatment in the form of systemic and institutional racism projected on us in a variety of ways.   A case in point is the recent discovery of emails whose contents are racist, sexist and bigoted on the official business computer of Mr. Rex Johnson, a white male who is the State Director of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

The emails were discovered by the State Auditor, Ms. Marion Higa, during an audit.    For political reasons Ms. Higa elected to ignore and conceal from the public, and some legislators, the fact that the emails also included racist and bigoted content.  She allowed the Hawaii Tourism Board, Governor Linda Lingle, State Representatives and the Senate President the free will to represent to the public that Mr. Johnson’s state email account only contained emails with offensive sexual content.  This eventually led to the Director receiving a salary reduction of $40,000 from his $240,000 a year salary.      The auditor’s action enabled Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and State House Representative Calvin Say to publicly support the reduction of salary, with no further punishment, as they offered their continuing support to Mr. Johnson.

Hawaii State Auditor Marion Higa

Some months after the audit the local newspaper, The Honolulu Advertiser, revealed to the public that emails with racist and bigoted content were also found on Mr. Johnsons’ state computer, prompting the governor to ask for his resignation.  However, this was only after she became concerned that the public would be prompted to ask questions about her earlier knowledge that other, more offending emails existed.   Hanabusa and Say still refuse to ask for Johnson’s resignation and continue to support his employment.  I requested a copy of the auditor’s original June 25, 2008, letter regarding her audit from Governor Lingle,  Senator Hanabusa, Representative Say, and  State Auditor Higa.  They all refused to release the letter.  

State Senator Colloeen Hanabusa

State Representative Calvin Say

Not having the letter in hand lends itself to speculation and theories.  One theory is that upon discovering the vile and repulsive emails Higa contacted Say and Hanabusa to alert them so they could downplay  or conceal the true content of the emails and keep Johnson in the Directorship so that Governor Linda Lingle’s majority appointed HTBA could not approve a Lingle appointee,  which would give Lingle a political advantage.  Politics may have played a hand because, if Lingle demanded that Johnson resign, she would get one of her cronies into the Directorship, which would be totally unacceptable to some of the other politicians.  

Justice and fairness should be afforded to all in a community, and should not be determined by the theory that there is safety in numbers.  This theory might apply to the animal kingdom but it has no place in the human society, especially where the population of African-Americans in Hawaii is so small.   However, in this instance, it seems to have influenced Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, Representative Calvin Say and Ms. Marion Higa, the State Auditor.  Clearly, if the safety in numbers theory didn’t apply we would have had a meaningful, open and transparent review of Mr. Rex Johnson’s actions while respecting and protecting his rights.  Instead, our leaders chose to engage in a behavior that has offended and insulted members of the African-American community and is an act of betrayal.    The Rex Johnson incident affords us all an opportunity to gauge how much progress we have made in combating racism and injustices.  It should also lend itself, as a reminder to those of us who are concerned with the quality of life in this great society, that the ambers of hatred and injustice still smolder in the halls of justice and government.

Karen Nakasone of the Japanese American Citizens League, joins
Alphonso Bragg, president of the local chapter of NAACP in calling
for the resignation of Rex Johnson


I believe that Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, Representative Calvin Say and Ms. Marion Higa, the State Auditor, should immediately call for an independent body to conduct an investigation into this matter in its entirety.  We have learned that the entire HTA board did not review all of the emails, and the punishment was issued based only on the emails with “sexual” content.  We have no idea if or what the other violations were.  If they claim that they only received half the information, and Higa’s letter did not contain all of the information, then that is even more reason to call for an independent investigation and the release of the June 25 letter to the public.

This matter cannot be left on the wayside in hopes that it will die out.  Appropriate action needs to be taken now to fully understand the ramifications of everyone’s actions and response to the situation, from Rex Johnson and his friends, all the way up to the Governor of this state.

Rex Johnson