Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English announced Tuesday he will retire effective Saturday, citing the lingering effects after he became ill with COVID-19 in late November. 

English, 54, represents Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai and Lanai, and his mid-term retirement means Gov. David Ige has 60 days to appoint his replacement.

English said he was infected with the disease while traveling out of state with his family, and said in a written statement he had only mild symptoms at the time.

However, “upon my return to Hawaii, I noticed a change in my energy, pervasive lethargy, memory challenges and a fogginess in my thought process,” English said in his statement. “I was not sure what to make of the challenges and thought I was suffering from depression or issues related to depression.”

Senator J. Kalani English during floor session at the Capitol.
Sen. J. Kalani English during a floor session at the State Capitol Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“Having been deemed a long hauler, I was diagnosed with long-term 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 said in the statement. “These challenges have placed a number of things into perspective for me, including the need to take better care of my health.”

Update: At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, English further elaborated on his symptoms. He described regular brain fog “like the day after a really bad hangover.” He also struggled with simple cognitive functions, like organizing folders in a certain order. The symptoms became worse around the start of session in January, he said.

He made the decision to retire after consulting with physicians.

English also endorsed Molokai Rep. Lynn DeCoite for his Senate seat.

“This district deserves a seasoned person in the Senate that understands the budget, understands the district, to continue the work,” English said.

Democratic party representatives from precincts in Senate District 7 will meet in the coming weeks to decide on a list of three names for Ige to choose from. If DeCoite is appointed, that would create an opening in the House. The same process would then repeat for the House seat.

Ige’s appointee would serve through the 2022 election.

English was first elected to the state Senate in 2000. He also served as a member of the Maui County Council from 1997 to 2000. He is a graduate of the Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii Loa College and the University of Hawaii Manoa.

English cited passage of the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption Commission, also known as the Hawaii Climate Commission, as one of his “lasting legacies.” The measure aligned Hawaii’s climate policies with the principles and goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Ige signed the bill into law in 2017, making Hawaii the first state in the nation to enact legislation implementing portions of the Paris Agreement.

English also noted in his statement that during his tenure he worked to secure over $2 billion in funding for his district and Kahoolawe.

Senate President Ron Kouchi said in a written statement that English is “both a colleague and a friend.”

“As a fellow neighbor-island senator, I’ve always admired his passion and dedication toward bettering his community. His twenty-five years of public service will leave a lasting impact on Maui Nui and the entire state,” Kouchi said in his statement.

DeCoite also offered thanks for the veteran senator’s service.

“Over the past few years, we really became teammates working together to benefit our district, we’d decide which of us would take the lead on different issues and check in with each other on the progress and get the other involved when it was time,” DeCoite said in a written statement.

Civil Beat reporter Blaze Lovell contributed to this story.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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