Two of the three Hawaii teachers who jumped into politics this year are headed from the classroom to the state House.
Social studies teacher Amy Perruso, a Democrat, collected twice as many votes as her opponent, Republican John E. Miller, pastor at Wahiawa Community Church of the Nazarene, in the race for the 46th District, which includes Wahiawa, Whitmore and Poamoho.
Republican Val Okimoto, a substitute teacher, managed to beat former Rep. Marilyn B. Lee, 55 to 45 percent, in the 36th House District, which covers Mililani, Mililani Mauka and Waipio Acres. The seat was up for grabs after Rep. Beth Fukumoto left it to run for Congress and Lee, a veteran legislator, had hoped to reclaim it.
Meanwhile, Micah Kalama Pregitzer of Kailua, a science teacher at Kalaheo High, fell short in his bid to unseat Rep. Cynthia Thielen, in the Kailua-Kaneohe House District 50.
All three teacher candidates were making their first bids for public office. Nationally, a record number of educators nationwide decided to run for office this election, according to the National Education Association, after a wave of teacher protests over funding for public schools.
Perruso, a former secretary-treasurer of the Hawaii State Teachers Association who teaches at Mililani High, had prevailed in the primary over Rep. Lei Learmont who was appointed to the seat in December to replace Marcus Oshiro.
“I’m interested in adjusting the drivers of economic opportunity for our community, investing in health care, in public education, in infrastructure, really pursuing a higher minimum wage and paid family leave,” Perruso said. “I want to shift the way in which we’re allocating our resources so there is more support for the lower income families. That’s really the makeup of my community and I feel like they’re not getting much support.”
Her opponent, Miller, described himself as a “pro-life, faith-based conservative.”
In Central Oahu, Lee, 78, was hoping to reclaim the seat she had held from 1996 to 2012. A retired registered nurse, she cited her “life experience, legislative experience and community experience” in her bid.
Okimoto, who spent a decade as a special education teacher before paring back to substitute teaching, was already known in the community as a director of the Mililani Town Association and until recently headed the local chapter of the Relief Society, a women’s auxiliary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“I just really felt that we needed somebody to be a voice for the people in our community,” Okimoto said. “I consider myself an every day person. I feel like I relate to a lot of people in the district.”
On the Windward side, Thielen, 84, had no trouble keeping her seat with 62 percent of the vote, despite an energetic challenge from Pregitzer in the Kailua-Kaneohe House District 50. She has represented the district since 1990.
One of just a handful of Republicans in the State House, Thielen is known for approaching issues in a bipartisan manner and has championed clean energy and the environment. She said her priorities in the next session are “housing for locals” and “adequate mental services for the homeless.”
Pregitzer, 41, a member of the board of the HSTA, had hoped to push for more funding for public education and affordable housing, particularly rentals.
Only 19 of Hawaii’s 51 state representatives faced any opposition in the general election. Incumbents overwhelmingly held their own in today’s balloting.
Rep. Tom Brower, who was seeking a seventh term, easily turned back Republican Kathryn Henski-Stark, who was challenging him for a second time in District 22, from Waikiki to Kakaako.
On the North Shore, Democrat Sean Quinlan, 35, far outpaced Richard Lee Fale, a Republican who used to represent the area in the state House. Quinlan was elected for the first time in 2016 to represent District 47, which stretches from Waialua through Kahuku to Waiahole. Fale had served one term but lost when he decided to run for Senate in 2014.
Rep. Romy Cachola, who narrowly beat Ernesto “Sonny” Ganaden in the primary, fended off his Republican challenger, Mar Velasco, in the 30th District which includes Sand Island, Kalihi Kai, Pearl Harbor and Halawa Valley Estate.
For full Honolulu Star-Advertiser coverage of the 2018 General Election, go to 808ne.ws/SA2018VOTE.