Lee defeats incumbent Matsumoto
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Political newcomer Carol Mon Lee defeated long-time incumbent Denise Matsumoto in the race for the Board of Education Honolulu seat.
Lee, former associate dean of the University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law, overwhelmingly outspent Matsumoto, who has been on the board since 1988.
Meanwhile, first-time candidate Janis Akuna, who outspent the field of six candidates for three O'ahu at-large seats, also earned a seat on the board. Akuna was the third-highest vote getter in the race, earning her one of the three seats. The other two seats went to incumbents Garrett Toguchi and Lei Ahu Isa.
"I am thrilled and surprised by this result," said Lee, who has never run for political office before.
"I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I didn't have the name recognition. I had to basically build it from scratch," she said.
Lee said receiving the endorsement and support of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association made a difference in her campaign, with the union contributing mailers to voters, Web advertisements and even a television advertisement.
Lee raised more than $20,000 as of Oct. 20 to increase her name recognition against the widely recognized incumbent. In contrast, Matsumoto reported raising no money as of Oct. 20.
"I've served and sacrificed for 20 years," Matsumoto said.
"My husband looks forward to spending more time with me. ... I look forward to concentrating on my job. We've also thought about foster parenting for a long time," she said.
Matsumoto led Lee by more than 30,000 votes in the primary election. Lee then spent a significant chunk of money following the primaries to turn the tide.
"There's no way I can compete with that," Matsumoto said, Monday afternoon. "I couldn't afford to spend any of my own money right now. If I'm not willing to kick in any of my own money, I didn't feel right asking other people."
Incumbents in the three other board races took leads over their challengers.
O'ahu at-large members Ahu Isa and Toguchi led the pack of six candidates seeking three seats on the board. They were closely followed by financial planner Akuna. Former state lawmaker Terrance Tom and former BOE chairman Randall Yee followed close behind.
Akuna vastly outspent the entire field, raising more than $18,000 as of Oct. 20. Both incumbents, Ahu Isa and Toguchi, reported raising little to no money.
Two of the three Neighbor Island board members were up for re-election this year. Both Kaua'i member Maggie Cox and Big Island member Herbert Watanabe earned re-election.
Kaua'i member Cox was being challenged by carpenter Larry Fillhart. And Big Island member Watanabe faced Waimea businessman Bill Sanborn.
Board candidates on the Neighbor Islands were talking to voters about some of the challenges that rural schools face. From attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers to assuring that future policies on closing or consolidating small schools don't have adverse effects on Neighbor Island schools, the incumbents said they've been strong voices on these issues.
Cox has been on the board for four years while Watanabe has served for 12.
In all, six incumbents were up for re-election with one of them, Breene Harimoto, elected outright since no one is challenging him for his seat as the Leeward O'ahu board member.
Longtime board member and former U.S. Rep. Cec Heftel chose not to seek re-election to his O'ahu at-large seat. That guaranteed that at least one new person will be on the board if all six incumbents return to office.
Severe budget cuts to public schools undoubtedly will be the biggest issue that the next Board of Education will have to address.
Already, the state Department of Education had cut some $20 million from its more than $2 billion annual budget, including $10.2 million cut by lawmakers this past legislative session. The board also recently approved a $45.6 million budget reduction plan in response to a request by the governor.
The BOE also will have to address other key issues over the next year, including teacher drug testing. The teacher drug-testing proposal stalled in July after two complaints were filed with the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board. The governor last week released the final round of teacher pay raises under the current teachers' contract even though the drug-testing issue has yet to be resolved.
Other issues include establishing a fair and equitable funding formula for public schools, higher expectations under the federal No Child Left Behind law and closing or consolidating small schools.
The Board of Education consists of 14 members who oversee the budget for the state Department of Education and set education policy for the state.
Board members not up for re-election this year are Central district member Eileen Clarke; Maui member Mary Cochran; O'ahu at-large members Kim Coco Iwamoto, Karen Knudsen and Donna Ikeda; and Windward district member John Penebacker.