GOP’s Love-Hate Affair With Higa

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - March 17, 2010

People change. Affections wane. Love dies. Time to move on.

So, it seems, is the case in the long-running relationship between the Republican Party of Hawaii - Gov. Linda Lingle, proprietor - and Legislative Auditor Marion Higa.

How long were they together? Throughout the 1990s and up to 2002, whenever the legislative auditor issued a report critical of the Democratic administrations of John Waihee and Ben Cayetano, Republicans cheered.

“Here! Here!” GOPers shouted. “See? Waste and corruption. Marion Higa says so.”

Their praise of Higa verged on a lover’s swoon.


Invoking Higa became commonplace in Republican policy talk. All signatories of Republican no-new-taxes pledges, GOPers were loath to specify where they would cut state spending. Instead, they’d invoke Higa: “Read the Legislative Auditor’s report on the Department of ____ (fill in any one of a score of government agencies.).”

House and Senate minority leaders held Higa’s studies in high regard. So too did 1998 and 2002 gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle. How high? They made up a fair part of whatever platform on which Lingle stood for the state’s highest office.

So how must poor Higa have felt when the governor stood before the press to declare Higa’s draft audit of the state Department of Budget and Finance “shoddy,” “unprofessional” and “politically motivated?”

Ooooh, that was cold. Obviously, this was more than a mere lovers’ quarrel. But the governor wasn’t done.

“This,” said Lingle, “is the shoddiest work I’ve seen put out by any government agency.”

People do get nasty when they’re breaking up. Lingle read 20 years of Maui County audits and reports, piles of her own administration’s work and probably some stuff that came out of President George W. Bush’s administration - but Higa’s is the “shoddiest”?

Being dumped is no fun. And Auditor Higa’s plaintive “I’m just doing my job” drew tears, I’m sure, from all - save Republican - eyes.

And a number of former Democratic office-holders wouldn’t cry for her either: namely, those whose departments had been skewered by the legislative auditor during the Waihee and Cayetano administrations and whose reports Lingle embraced.

When Higa criticized Democrats, Lingle loved her. When she criticizes Lingle’s departments, where’s the love? Lingle’s chief of staff Barry Fukunaga, her senior policy adviser Linda Smith and senior communications director Lenny Klompus wrote last week, “As governor, she (Lingle) supported Higa in previous years because her audits were generally fair, accurate and unbiased. Sadly, that is no longer the case, based on the auditor’s last inflammatory report on DBEDT and now against Budget and Finance. Each is characterized by numerous unfounded and erroneous findings.

“Higa appears to have drifted from impartiality and independence to politicizing her office and her reports to do the bidding of the Legislature.”


Was that what Higa was doing all those years when her audits made Democratic administrators squirm and protest while Republicans rejoiced? Was her office politicized then?

The governor and her staffers protest too much. Higa was “doing her job.” She’s constitutionally charged with doing audits requested by the Legislature. She has 26 employees and a budget of $6.3 million, and she’s examining complex state departments and agencies with much larger staffs and budgets.

Will her auditors err? Will mistakes be made? Undoubtedly. Should the governor come to the defense of her departments? Sure, just as Waihee and Cayetano did.

But, in this case, the governor’s response and that of her staffers are over the top.

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