Governor Linda Lingle called for the resignation of Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO Rex Johnson yesterday, following news that he had e-mailed racist and sexist jokes using his state computer.
The chair of the tourism authority, Kelvin Bloom, asked board members to convene a special meeting “as soon as possible” to consider what action to take.
The board disciplined Johnson last month after an audit found that he had used his state computer to e-mail pornographic material.
Bloom said board members did not personally review Johnson’s e-mails when they took disciplinary action against him last month and weren’t aware of the racist and sexist jokes until they were reported in The Advertiser yesterday.
The Advertiser obtained the e-mails through the state open-records law.
One of the e-mailed jokes referred to Sen. Barack Obama as a “coon” and Sen. Hillary Clinton as a “beaver.”
In a meeting with reporters at the Capitol yesterday, Lingle said the HTA’s board should remove Johnson immediately “if he does not have the class to resign.”
“It’s just clear that Rex Johnson has to do the right thing for the people of Hawai’i, for Hawai’i’s future, and resign his position immediately,” Lingle said.
“This is not a person … we want to lead the agency that’s responsible for promoting our state’s most important industry.”
In a written statement yesterday, Johnson said, “As I’ve said before, I understand that my actions were a huge error in judgment and will never happen again.
“If the content of these forwarded e-mails have offended anyone, this was not my intention and I sincerely apologize.
“The board has reviewed this matter and took action. I would like to put this matter behind me so that I, my staff and the board can focus on the job at hand: revitalizing Hawai’i’s visitor industry.”
Johnson, who has served as the HTA’s chief executive officer since 2002, first came under fire last month after the state auditor found nearly two dozen adult-oriented e-mails in his state computer.
Porn on computer
The HTA board voted unanimously on Aug. 21 to retain Johnson but cut his annual pay from $240,000 to $200,000 and reduced his four-year contract to one year.
Alphonso Braggs, president of the Honolulu branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the latest disclosures require Johnson’s dismissal.
Braggs said the e-mails forwarded by Johnson were “bigoted” and Johnson’s actions were “inappropriate” for the head of a state agency that’s charged with marketing the Isles’ visitor industry.
He added that the campaigns of Obama and Clinton have been a political and historical milestone for the country, and for the head of HTA to marginalize the events with disparaging remarks is unfortunate.
“I can find no acceptable explanation for his behavior that he should continue on the job,” Braggs said.
Faye Kennedy, president of the the Hawai’i Women’s Political Caucus, said her organization is also calling for Johnson’s immediate termination.
Kennedy questioned why the HTA board and state auditor chose to focus on the pornographic e-mails but made no mention of the racist and sexist e-mails.
“I think he’s outlived his usefulness and its time to give him his marching orders,” Kennedy said of Johnson.
According to Bloom, the HTA chairman, the review of Johnson’s computer was conducted by the state attorney general’s office. Bloom said the AG’s office reviewed nearly two dozen e-mails containing pornographic material but did not uncover the racist or sexist e-mails.
Bloom declined to say whether the board would take further action against Johnson, since he doesn’t know the specific details involving the latest e-mails.
But he added that the board does not condone racist or sexist e-mails or other forms of hate speech and wants further information.
“It’s just clear that Rex Johnson has to do the right thing for the people of Hawai’i, for Hawai’i’s future, and resign his position immediately. This is not a person … we want to lead the agency that’s responsible for promoting our state’s most important industry.”