There will once again be a doctor in the House.
Just days before the regular legislative session is set to begin, Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Friday appointed Richard Creagan, 68, a Naalehu physician, to fill the District 5 post vacated by former state Rep. Denny Coffman. Coffman resigned last month to care for his ailing daughter on the mainland.
Creagan’s appointment begins immediately, and he will start the session on opening day Wednesday and serve through the remainder of Coffman’s term in November, unless he is elected to a new two-year term. Like Coffman, Creagan is a Democrat.
“Richard’s diverse experience as a physician, researcher, farmer, Peace Corps volunteer and educator will contribute greatly to his service to the people of Hawaii,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Richard as a member of Hawaii’s House of Representatives.”
District 5 includes Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Captain Cook, Ocean View and Naalehu.
The only other physician in the Legislature, Josh Green, who is also a West Hawaii legislator, left the House and moved to the Senate in 2008.
Abercrombie picked Creagan from a list of three finalists submitted by the Hawaii Democratic Party District 5 Council. The council winnowed a list of nine candidates to arrive at its list. Abercrombie, state Party Chairman Dante Carpenter and John Buckstead, Democratic Party vice chairman for West Hawaii, all declined to name the finalists.
Hawaii County Democratic Party Chairman David Tarnas applauded the appointment in an interview Friday morning with West Hawaii Today.
“I appreciate Richard’s willingness to serve the community, and his experience as a physician and a farmer makes him particularly aware of the social and economic issues facing his constituents,” Tarnas said. “I wish him the best.”
The nine who applied in addition to Creagan were Abigail Au, constituent services representative in Abercrombie’s Kona office; Kaliko Chun, a Kailua-Kona resident who has weighed in on several issues before county and state public hearings; Barbara Dalton, governor’s representative in Abercrombie’s Kona office; Una Greenaway, a Captain Cook coffee farmer; Lei Kihoi, an attorney for Native Hawaiian issues and member of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission; Gene “Bucky” Leslie, a retiree and previous candidate for state representative; Michael Matsukawa, a Kailua-Kona attorney; and Steve Sakala, an environmental consultant and proprietor of a Honaunau farm retreat.
Creagan first came to Hawaii in 1966 and trained for the Peace Corps on Molokai for two months. He then served as a health care worker in the Marshall Islands for two years. He speaks fluent Marshallese. Creagan is vice president of Kiolakaa Mountain Farms, which he founded in 1994 with his wife, Marilyn, who works as a labor and delivery nurse at Kona Community Hospital.
As a residency trained and board certified emergency physician, Creagan worked for 10 years in California prior to moving to Hawaii full time 23 years ago. Since then, he has worked in the emergency department and served as vice-chief of staff at Kona Community Hospital, worked as a Hawaii Department of Health bioterrorism preparedness epidemiologic investigator monitoring disease outbreaks, and helped found and run Hualalai Urgent Care.
Before his medical career, Creagan was a student and human genetics researcher at Yale University and the University of Connecticut Medical Center. He later helped found and run San Francisco-based AGRI, a firm which focused on animal vaccines and human blood products. The company was sold after five years, which facilitated his move to Hawaii.
As an educator, Creagan has assisted in teaching junior scientists at Yale and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer, seventh- and eighth-grade math and science in Pittsburgh, and tutored students in English at Naalehu Elementary School.
Creagan graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and then with an M.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. He recently returned to school and earned a Certificate in Plant Tissue Culture in 2005 and a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2009 from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Creagan could not be reached for comment by press time Friday.