Two of the three teachers who jumped into politics this year seeking seats in the state House pulled ahead in early election returns tonight.
Social studies teacher Amy Perruso of Wahiawa appeared headed from the classroom to the Legislature, after collecting more than twice as many votes as her opponent.
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.
In Hawaii, they included Perruso and Micah Kalama Pregitzer of Kailua, both Democrats, and Val Okimoto of Mililani, a Republican. All were making their first bids for public office.
Okimoto held a slight lead in early returns over former Rep. Marilyn B. Lee 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.
Meanwhile, Pregitzer, a science teacher at Kalaheo High, fell short in his bid to unseat Rep. Cynthia Thielen, in the Kailua-Kaneohe House District 50.
Perruso, who teaches at Mililani High, forged far ahead of 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. Miller described himself as a “pro-life, faith-based conservative.”
A former secretary-treasurer of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Perruso 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.”
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 and is now a substitute teacher, was already known in the community as a director of the Mililani Town Association and formerly 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, held a commanding lead over 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 if re-elected are “housing for locals” and “adequate mental services for the homeless.”
Pregitzer, 41, a member of the board of the HSTA, waged an energetic campaign. If elected, he 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 Tuesday’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 for 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 from Sand Island-Kalihi-Airport.
For full Honolulu Star-Advertiser coverage of the 2018 General Election, go to 808ne.ws/SA2018VOTE.
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