BOARD OF EDUCATION
Name recognition rules in BOE races
The race for three Board of Education at-large seats is wide open, as the number of blank primary ballots surpassed the combined total of four of the six leading candidates.
The top six vote-getters advanced to compete for three seats in November's general election. Former state Sen. and BOE member Donna Ikeda, 67, and incumbent Karen Knudsen, 55, advanced by comfortable margins, with 78,208 votes (13.6 percent of the total turnout) and 69,303 votes (12 percent), respectively.
But the other advancers -- former state lawmakers Terrance Tom, 58, and Brian Yamane, 59; civil rights lawyer Kim Coco Iwamoto, 38; and incumbent Darwin Ching, 60 -- had a combined 143,232 votes, compared with 173,016 blank ballots -- which accounted for 30 percent of the total votes cast in Saturday's primary. Tom led the group, with 41,232 votes, or 7.1 percent; followed by Yamane with 35,742, or 6.2 percent; Iwamoto with 35,669, or 6.2 percent; and Ching with 30,589, or 5.3 percent.
Ching, a lawyer appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle to a vacant seat in August 2005, said that the 17-candidate primary field made it hard to stand out in the sprawling Oahu-wide district.
"I hope that now that we've gotten down to the final six, that we'll be able to get down to the issues" and provide voters a clear choice, he said.
"In Hawaii a lot of the voting is based on name recognition, but I think we are getting more sophisticated and that voters are trying to look at the issues. I hope we can do this in the general election," said Ching, who looks forward to a candidates' forum on Oct. 10.
Knudsen, on the board since 1990 and the mother of two public school graduates, is taking nothing for granted as she heads to the general election.
"I will be stepping up my campaigning, hitting the streets a lot more and drawing attention, I hope, to the entire board race," she said. "We still have a lot of work to do."
In the Windward Oahu race, retired library administrator John Penebacker, 60, appears headed to a general election win over Kris DeRego, 24, whose history of alleged sexual misconduct and theft became an issue. Penebacker, a member of the UH "Fab Five" basketball teams of the 1970s, won 93,111 primary votes, or 48.4 percent, to DeRego's 25,258, or 13.1 percent.
That DeRego beat incumbent Paul Vierling to advance to the general election left Vierling, 54, "stunned and disappointed and discouraged."
Vierling, the only candidate on the primary ballot who has children in Hawaii's public schools, got 13,651 votes, or 7.1 percent. The Servco Raynor business development specialist, who was appointed by Lingle to a vacant seat in May 2005, said he would continue to try to improve public education as a volunteer for the Hawaii State PTSA. He is the group's interim treasurer.
"The kindest way to put it is that the outcome of the election suggests to me that name recognition does have a major influence, and I don't carry very high name recognition, having only been in the state for 4 1/2 years," he said.
"Every public servant is always hopeful that the voters will study the issues and study the candidates," but the district's 60,355 blank votes indicate that did not occur, he said.
In the Central District race, the only two candidates -- retired educator Eileen Ishihara Clarke, 63, and incumbent Shirley Robinson, 55 -- did not appear on the primary ballot because they automatically advance to the general election. Maui board member Mary Cochran also was not on the ballot, because she was unopposed and automatically returns to office.
The 14-member nonpartisan board oversees the statewide Department of Education and sets policy for Hawaii's public schools.