The governor chose the top vote-getter of this past council election to fill Rep. James Tokioka’s seat.

Kauai lost its most popular County Council member on Wednesday when Luke Evslin resigned to accept Gov. Josh Green’s appointment to fill an empty House seat that covers the island’s east side.


A member of council since 2018, Evslin’s ascent into state politics has earned him plenty of congratulations from residents who look forward to his representation in the Legislature.

But there’s a strong sense of loss among those who say they’ll miss his dedication to the nitty-gritty of county-level policy issues.

Evslin distinguished himself on the council with his down-to-earth demeanor and passion for policy minutiae. Supporters describe him as an intelligent and meticulous politician with a progressive agenda who is both engaged and accessible to constituents.

“I wrestled pretty hard with whether to do this or not,” said Evslin, who was the top vote-getter in the at-large council election three months ago. “I think in the long term I can serve Kauai better in this capacity. I fully committed to do my best to make sure it’s a net benefit to the county and to county residents. I don’t want this to be a loss in any way.”

Luke Evslin resigned from the Kauai County Council on Wednesday to serve District 16 in the House of Representatives. He replaces Jimmy Tokioka, who vacated his seat to work in Gov. Josh Green’s administration. (Allan Parachini/Civil Beat/2018)

His influence was in some ways subtle, but also vast: Over five years he refined policies that shape Kauai residents’ daily lives — closing property tax loopholes to help locals stay in their homes, designing a program to pay residents to convert cesspools to septic systems, and growing the island’s limited stock of electric vehicle charging stations.

Evslin was the architect of a bill that allocates 2% of real property tax revenue toward affordable housing. He helped push forward a resolution that allows the county to charge tourists $10 for beach parking. 

At the Capitol, Evslin said he aims to work on many of the same issues. He wants to hasten the state’s transition to renewable energy, reduce Hawaii’s appeal for residential real estate investors, curb chronic traffic problems and help farmers grow more food.

But as he jumps headfirst into state politics, Evslin leaves behind a slew of unfinished county policy efforts. 

There’s the bill he drafted that would require some large property subdivisions to provide public access to beaches or mountains. There’s the effort to reduce parking stall requirements that encourage strip mall-style developments that disrupt efforts to make places like Lihue’s town core more walkable. There’s the bid to ensure that vacant investment properties are taxed at a higher rate than long-term rentals. And there’s the longstanding campaign to raise the property tax on vacation rentals to the same rate as hotels.

Evslin said he plans to meet with his former colleagues on the council to try and find new champions for each of these issues.

Kauai County Council Chairman Mel Rapozo said he’ll miss Evslin’s work on the council.

A simple vote by the remaining six council members will determine Evslin’s successor. On Wednesday, the council will begin the process to nominate candidates and possibly conduct a vote.

If there’s a tie or if the council doesn’t appoint a new council member in 30 days, the mayor will make the appointment.

Council Chairman Mel Rapozo said he wants to fill the vacancy quickly so that a full council can start work on preparing a budget proposal in March. 

“It’s hard enough coming into budget reviews from the beginning,” Rapozo said. “It’s very difficult to come in after it’s started, so my goal is to get the seventh person, whoever it may be, started as soon as we can.”

Former Kauai Mayor JoAnn Yukimura said it can be more difficult to influence county affordable housing policy at the state level.

Former Kauai Mayor JoAnn Yukimura, who also served on the council for years, said she hopes the council will be thoughtful in selecting a replacement who mirrors Evslin’s proactive, progressive politics.

“I think the voters deserve somebody who will be like Luke,” she said. 

Part of Evslin’s appeal, supporters say, is his understated humor, humility and commitment to transparency.

In lengthy Facebook posts, he sought to demystify the intent behind some of the more abstract bills and ordinances he championed, fostering better public understanding and engagement in county politics.

When he put his name forward to fill the vacant District 16 House seat, which Tokioka had held since 2006, Evslin again took to social media to explain his desire to leave the council for a chance to wield broader, statewide influence on the pressing issues he cares about, from affordable housing to climate change.

“It’s this belief — that we are facing a ticking clock and my work can help improve the lives of my children’s generation and the generations to come — that compels me to adjust my family life and step forward,” he said in a Facebook post.

Bill Fernandez, a former judge from Kapaa, said he’s optimistic that in Honolulu Evslin can draw on his skills as a collaborative policy maven to make his mark, just as he did in Council Chambers on Rice Street.

“He’s in a bigger house that has many rooms that need to be opened up and I think he can do it,” Fernandez said.

Yet some Kauai leaders questioned Evslin’s ability to continue to push his affordable housing agenda so effectively at the Capitol as a new face with clout to earn among his colleagues. The House includes 51 members and the Senate has 25.

“There is good work that can be done at the state level, but I think on affordable housing, there’s a lot that happens at the county level,” Yukimura said. “Oftentimes at the state level they’ll give us money, which is appreciated, but how that money is used is determined at the local level.”

Luke Evslin was the top vote-getter in Kauai County Council race in the 2022 election. Courtesy: (Courtesy of Luke Evslin/2023)

Outside of politics, Evslin is an outrigger canoe paddler, nature photography hobbyist and high school civics teacher at a private prep school — a job that his appointment forced him to resign. He is a founder of Kamanu Composites, an Oahu-based outrigger canoe manufacturing company that he started with two of his Kauai High School classmates. 

He’s also a husband and father of two young children. 

Serving in the Legislature will lead Evslin to live on Oahu five days a week during the four-month session, which opened in January and wraps in early May. It’s a commitment he said he weighed carefully on balance with his dedication to his family.

Bev Brody, who coordinates health and fitness programs for the county as director of Get Fit Kauai, described Evslin’s departure from the council as bittersweet.

“He leaves a really big hole, I don’t want him to leave,” she said. “But I can’t let my selfishness take over.”

“If he thinks this is where he can make the biggest difference,” she said, “then I’m going to have to support him and trust him and be happy for him.”

Disappointment expressed by some constituents over his departure from county politics will serve as motivation for Evslin to put his head down and work even harder for Kauai, he said.

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