6 vie for 3 at-large seats


POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A former state lawmaker and a past chairman of the Board of Education—both attorneys—are among six candidates seeking to grab at-large school board seats after surviving the primary election but placing behind incumbents.

Terrance Tom, a state representative from 1982 to 1998, and Randall Yee, who headed the school board from 2002 to 2006, advanced with two other hopefuls and two incumbents to the Nov. 4 general contest, where they will battle for three Oahu at-large seats.

With incumbents Lei Ahu Isa and Garrett Toguchi distancing themselves from the crowd in the primary for two of the seats, the focus has shifted to the Oahu at-large spot vacated by Cec Heftel, a former congressman who is not seeking re-election.

The race between Tom and Yee was tight, with Tom having led by less than 2,000 votes. They were followed by Darrow Aiona, a retired professor, and Janis Akuna, a vice president at Morgan Stanley.

Yee is hoping a higher voter turnout will propel him past Tom and back to the school board, where he plans to work on everything from improving graduation rates to supporting relevant programs tailored to students' interests.

“;If it's something that ... interests the students, there's a greater chance they will want to pursue it,”; he said, citing programs such as Waianae High's Seariders Production, which has won numerous video awards. “;I want to see more of that.”;

Tom said that if elected, he would rely on his legislative experience to increase education funding.

“;We are thinking of cutting even more from the budget. That disturbs me,”; he said about a proposal to trim the state Education Department's $2.4 billion budget by nearly $70 million.

Meanwhile, Honolulu school board member Denise Matsumoto will try to fend off a challenge from Carol Mon Lee, a former assistant dean of the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law. Lee, who trailed Matsumoto in the primary by more than 30,000 votes, has said she wants to ensure all students have access to the best education, regardless of where they attend school.

On the Big Island, Herbert Watanabe, who has been on the school board since 1997, will battle against J. William Sanborn, a property manager.

Of the two other incumbents up for re-election this year, Maggie Cox of Kauai will face carpenter Lawrence Fillhart, while Leeward member Breene Harimoto was unopposed for another four-year term.

The 14-member school board, which includes one student representative, oversees the Hawaii Education Department and sets policy for 283 isle schools.