Former banker making
a run for school board

Retired banker and philanthropist Robert Midkiff is running for a seat on the Board of Education, bringing another high-profile name to the ballot in an election that usually attracts little notice.

Midkiff is seeking one of three Oahu at-large seats on the board, joining former U.S. Rep. Cecil Heftel, who has decided to run in that race rather than for the Honolulu district seat.

"I'm a total supporter of (schools Superintendent) Pat Hamamoto," said Midkiff, who founded the Good Beginnings Alliance, which focuses on early childhood education, and is president of the Atherton Family Foundation. "I'm running to try to support her."

With education a top issue on the public agenda this year, attention has turned to the statewide board, which Gov. Linda Lingle has campaigned to abolish in favor of local school boards. The board sets policy for public schools statewide and appoints the superintendent.

Midkiff founded and served as chairman and CEO of American Financial Services of Hawaii, parent company of Bishop Trust and American Trust. He and Heftel are among 20 candidates who have pulled papers in the Oahu at-large district. The filing deadline is today. The top three candidates will win seats on the board.

Garrett Toguchi is the only incumbent seeking re-election in the race. His two colleagues, Carol Gabbard and Shelton Jim On, have decided to step down at the end of this term. Gabbard said yesterday she plans to focus on improving education as a full-time assistant to her husband, Mike, who is running for Congress.

Jim On, who was appointed by Lingle in 2003 to fill a vacancy, is not seeking election, but his wife, Portia, is considering a bid for either his seat or the Honolulu district seat now held by Denise Matsumoto.

Other familiar names are surfacing in the race as well. Former state Rep. Lei Ahu Isa has pulled papers for the Oahu at-large seat, along with former Board of Education member Keith Sakata and Windward community activist Shannon Wood.

Darwin Ching, a former supervising attorney in the Honolulu prosecutor's office and former deputy attorney general who is now in private practice, filed his papers for the at-large race yesterday. He said he supports Lingle's bid for multiple school boards.

"Why do we want to keep making the same mistakes?" he asked. "I want to take a positive approach."

Heftel originally planned to seek Matsumoto's Honolulu district seat, but said he decided to run for an open seat after meeting with her and discovering "we both have similar goals."

On Kauai, several candidates pulled papers for the seat that will be vacated by Sherwood Hara. They include John Friedman, former president of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association; Margaret Cox, who recently retired as a public school principal; and former Board of Education chairman Mitsugi Nakashima.

On the Big Island, Herbert Watanabe, a former principal who has served on the board since 1996, is facing a challenge from Nadia Davies, who spent more than 30 years as a teacher and counselor in California schools before moving to Kailua-Kona.

Board Chairman Breene Harimoto, the Leeward Oahu candidate, is also up for re-election to the 13-member board.


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