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Justin Hughey elected to HSTA post; controversial do-over yields victory twice for Lahaina educator

By Staff | Jun 18, 2015


LAHAINA – Justin Hughey, 39, was recently elected vice president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), a statewide labor organization representing over 13,000 Hawaii public school and Hawaii public charter school teachers.

Hughey, who teaches special education at King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina, ran as part of a three-member slate of challengers, all of whom were voted into office. Also elected were Oahu social studies teachers Corey Rosenlee (president) and Amy Perruso (secretary-treasurer). The new officers will assume their posts on July 9, 2015 and serve a three-year term.

A total of 3,149 ballots were cast in the controversial early June election, which was a do-over of an earlier May vote. The second election was held when the union’s board refused to certify the first results, citing unspecified “irregularities.”

The second election was held in spite of the objections of the challengers who had won the first election. The challengers were also victorious in the second contest (see sidebar box for vote totals and HSTA website link).

The statewide union election drew wide media attention as the bizarre scenario unspooled. When it was all over, Hughey, who had a front row seat for the strange sequence of events, responded via e-mail to questions from the Lahaina News:

Q: Exactly how many elections were there, two or three? Two official elections. In the first election, there were three candidates, and the winner needed 50 percent plus one to win. I received about 46 percent of the vote, so it went to a runoff for the top two candidates. So, there were two elections, but teachers had to vote three times for me to win.

Q: Why did you run in the first place? I believed the problem with our union was that it had lost sight of its mission to organize and advocate for teachers. I am an activist. I walk the walk when it comes to advocacy and organizing.

Nothing has ever come easy for me. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age, and it became my personal mountain to climb. At an impressionable age, I associated impossible odds with worthy endeavors, believing anything is possible. Learning how to read seemed almost impossible, but I never gave up.

I asked my mother to find a book on the weaknesses of my disability. She came up with “In Mind’s Eye” by Thomas G. West, a book about the gifts of being dyslexic.

What hit home was reading that Einstein in seventh grade was so frustrated with regular educational curriculum that he went after his tutor with a chair. If the smartest man in the world felt the same way I did, then I knew I had a chance!

I had to take sign language as a foreign language requirement to get into college. I applied to only the Evergreen State College and didn’t get in until I explained how worthy I was over the phone.

That school sharpened my artistic talent enough to apply at an art institute in Florence, Italy. I was not accepted originally. I had to spend more money taking classes as a student-at-large to prove I could get the grades to get in.

I took this next step (of running for union office) because the battle to offer every student a quality public education is currently a losing battle. Some of the reasons are the large class sizes, no air conditioning, loss of electives and over reliance of standardized test scores. Grit and persistence have allowed me to overcome some of my own personal obstacles, but there is no amount of grit that would have allowed me to be successful in Hawaii’s public educational system as it is today.

Q. How did the group of challengers come together? We found each other in the trenches as we were fighting back against this tsunami of educational deform. We all expect more advocacy and better results!

Q. What has been your reaction as the do-over played out? I just tried to stay positive and treat each election as a learning experience. Leadership will always have to deal with adversity. I felt we really did well with all of the obstacles that came our way.

Q. Why do you think it became so contentious? While teachers generally share a common set of core interests and values, we differ in how to achieve or realize those interests and values. The difference between ourselves and the previous existing union leadership lay primarily in strategies or approaches to how to achieve our shared goals.

Q. What do you think your group will do differently than the prior officers? We will redesign our union structure so that it is more democratic, transparent and member-driven. As we move from a business model union to an organizing union, we will be transforming the involvement of the union. Our goal is to go from a contract-compliance role to one of supporting, organizing and mobilizing teachers to fight for fair pay, professional respect and better public schools.

Q. Why do you think the challengers won (twice)? Teachers in Hawaii are tired of being paid the lowest salary in the country when factoring in the cost of living. They do not feel that the new evaluation system that was negotiated in our contract is fair, reliable, comprehensive or transparent. They feel standardized testing is interfering with learning, and they want smaller class sizes with this new technology called air conditioning. We have amazing people in the classrooms in Hawaii public schools – some of the most intelligent, best educated and effective professionals in Hawaii. It is time that we recognize and respect the value of public school teachers.

Q. Now that your group has been elected, what happens next? With our caucus, we have developed a “First 100 Days” plan that we hope to begin implementing as soon as we are in office July 9th. In the interim, we are all delegates to the National Educational Association (NEA) Convention in Orlando, Florida. This meeting involves roughly 10,000 delegates all in one room organizing and pushing progressive educational items.

Q. The teachers were very politically active for Ige in the last election and were the only group in organized labor to endorse him in his primary upset victory. Will this change in HSTA leadership have any bearing on the union’s relationship with the new governor? We (the new HSTA leadership) have not yet had any conversations with the governor. Our decisions about our political affiliations and support will be membership-driven and will be based on actual steps taken by those in political office to support teachers and public education.

Q. What specifically are the duties of an HSTA vice president? Is it a paid position? It is not a paid position. The vice president: serves as chair of the convention in the absence of the president; serves as an ex-officio member, without vote, on all governance, standing, special and board committees, provided that the vice president may be appointed as chair of a special committee; attends meetings of the NEA Representative Assembly; and performs such other duties as may be assigned by the president, the board, or the convention.

Q. Have the so-called “irregularities” ever been formally spelled out? I would like to move forward and start addressing the real problems facing education in Hawaii.

Q. Any other comments? I would like to thank all of the teachers who hung in there and voted for me three times in a row.


Total votes cast in HSTA June leadership election: 3,149 ballots, according to the HSTA website

Vote breakdown: President: Corey Rosenlee (56.4%); Joan Lewis (43.6%)

Vice President: Justin Hughey (54.8%); Colleen Pasco (45.2%)

Secretary-Treasurer: Amy Perruso (100%); Perruso did not face an opponent in the June election, as the former candidate for secretary-treasurer, Osa Tui Jr., withdrew after the first election in May and was not on the ballot in the second election.

More details can be found at