Sen. English Retires, Molokai Candidates to Vie for Seat
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
Longtime Senator Kalani English announced his retirement from the State Senate last week, effective May 1. Meanwhile, Molokai’s Representative Lynn DeCoite has said she will be seeking his seat, along with Walter Ritte, who narrowly lost to DeCoite in the last election.
English served as senator of District 7, Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai and Lanai, since 2000, having previously served on the Maui County Council since 1997. He cited longterm medical issues resulting from contracting COVID-19 last year as his main reason for retirement.
“In late November 2020, I contracted COVID-19 while with family out of Hawaii,” English said in a statement last week. “My symptoms were mild and I did not physically suffer at the time of infection from the virus, unlike many of our friends and family. I was grateful to have healed. Upon my return to Hawaii, I noticed a change in my energy, pervasive lethargy, memory challenges and a fogginess in my thought process.”
He was diagnosed as a “long hauler,” or someone who experiences longterm effects of COVID-19.
“My new normal will require me to address some of the challenges left to my short and long-term memory and other cognitive issues derived from the virus,” he continued. “These challenges have placed a number of things into perspective for me, including the need to take better care of my health. I have been blessed to give back to the communities that have reared and nurtured me – it will be a daunting task to walk away from 25 years of service to my island home.”
English, a lifelong resident of Hana, secured more than $2 billion in funding for the rural communities of his district, and successfully championed a number of bills relating to Hawaiian culture, the environment, transportation and energy. One of his legacies is the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption Commission. He introduced the measure that created the climate commission while simultaneously aligning Hawaii’s climate policies with the principles and goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement and making Hawaii the first state in the nation to enact legislation implementing portions of the Paris Agreement.
“Over his 24 years in elected office, Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English has been a dedicated leader and public servant for the people of Maui Nui,” said Rep. DeCoite in a statement last week. “As his constituent, I would see him fighting for his whole district
making sure each area and island was looked after. In my time serving with him at the State Capitol I’ve gotten know him as a colleague, mentor and lifelong friend…. As Senator English embarks on his next journey, I wish him well and look forward to a continued friendship. He truly leaves big shoes to fill.”
According to state law, Democratic Party officers from the 15 precincts in Senate District 7 will select three names to send to Gov. David Ige for consideration to English’s position. The governor has 60 days to fill the vacancy.
DeCoite, who is serving her fourth term as District 7 representative, announced last week she intends to vie for English’s seat.
“Our district needs someone who will foster the relationships that he has built and continue to ensure that resources are properly allocated to our rural communities,” DeCoite said. “As a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives, I already represent a large majority of the communities in Senate District 7 and have a deep understanding of the district’s needs.
I’m confident that if appointed, I can hit the ground running and continue my work of improving the quality of life for all who call Maui Nui home.”
Ritte has also expressed his interest, with Civil Beat reporting that “supporters of longtime Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte said they would be submitting his name for consideration.” Ritte lost to DeCoite in the 2020 primary election race for the representative seat by just 94 votes. He is a longtime champion of Aloha ‘Aina, food independence and sustainability.
Ritte didn’t return requests for comment in time to print.
The Maui Democratic Party said in a statement it will be issuing a formal call for candidates soon.