WASHINGTON — The 117th Congress comes to a close Tuesday, marking the end of Kai Kahele’s lone two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was expected by many to live out a long and promising political career.

Kahele decided not to run for reelection in 2022 and instead mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Hawaii governor.

He is being replaced by former state Sen. Jill Tokuda, a Democrat, who easily won election after Kahele announced he was giving up on Washington.

Outgoing U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele delivered a final message to constituents before leaving Congress. Screenshot

Kahele issued his final press release Monday that included a 15-minute video in which he detailed his congressional accomplishments and thanked his staff and others who helped him both on the Hill and in the islands.

“From Day 1 to Day 730, we worked tirelessly to protect, strengthen and elevate our home, our culture and our Olelo Hawaii,” Kahele said.

Kahele is the just second Native Hawaiian to serve Hawaii in Congress since statehood. The first was Dan Akaka, who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2013 and died in 2018.

In his video, Kahele highlighted his work to secure emergency funding for parts of Oahu, Maui and Kauai that were devastated by historic flooding in 2021 as well as the efforts of Hawaii’s federal delegation to convince the U.S. Navy to shut down its bulk fuel storage facility at Red Hill after a leak contaminated the drinking water and sickened thousands.

He touted the millions of dollars in earmarks he secured in the fiscal year 2022 and 2023 budgets, including large sums for nonprofits helping the Native Hawaiian community.

Kahele had special praise for U.S. Rep. Ed Case in his outgoing message, saying that the two of them worked closely together on critical issues related to Red Hill as well as an initiative to increase federal consultation with Native Hawaiians.

“Congressman Case was not only my partner in the House, but my mentor and friend,” Kahele said. “He prepared me to be ready for Congress on Day 1.”

Kahele’s message did not address the series of controversies he faced during his final year in office, from concerns about his extensive proxy voting record to an official ethics investigation into his part-time job working as a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines and the use of his campaign social media accounts.

His press release, however, did thank Hawaii’s local media organizations for “their tireless work throughout the 117th Congress to keep the people of Hawaiʻi informed on federal issues that affect the State of Hawaiʻi.”

It was a conciliatory tone for Kahele, who frequently refused to participate in interviews with the media and openly criticized reporters who covered him while he was running for governor.

Kahele did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The outgoing congressman’s political future remains an open question.

He did not attend the Hawaii Democratic Party’s unity breakfast after losing in the Democratic primary to then-Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who went on to win the general election, and has maintained his campaign website to include a countdown ticker to the 2026 primary in August 2026.

According to his press release, Kahele will continue to work for Hawaiian Airlines while also serving in the Hawaii Air National Guard, where he holds the rank of lieutenant colonel.

The release stated he is also currently enrolled as a graduate student in the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

In his final message to his constituents, Kahele threw out a parting shaka with his family and staff gathered around him.

“Mahalo nui loa, Hawaii. Until we meet again,” he said. “A hui hou!”

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