While almost all of the 2020 races have been decided, Hawaii County Democrats must still sort out who will replace Congressman-elect Kai Kahele in the state Senate.

Kahele, who won election to represent Hawaii’s Second Congressional District in November, has served in the Senate since 2016. But the process to select his successor to represent Hilo at the Legislature can’t begin until Kahele resigns his state position.

He’s expected to do that in the coming week, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, also says he is expecting Kahele’s resignation to come soon.

Senator Kai Kahele during Hawaiian Affairs DHHL Aila meeting2.
Big Island Democrats are getting ready to replace Congressman-elect Kai Kahele in the state Senate. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Once Kahele resigns from the Senate, party officers from nine precincts in Senate District 1 will convene to decide on a list of at least three names that should be forwarded to Gov. David Ige, who gets to decide who to appoint.

The Democrats’ rules require any candidate to be a member of the party in good standing for at least six months.

While state law gives the party 30 days to complete that process, Dos Santos-Tam thinks it could happen within 10 days of Kahele’s resignation.

Kahele went through a similar process in 2016 when he replaced his father, Gil Kahele, who died in office.

Dos Santos-Tam said the new senator should be seated before the Legislature goes back into session Jan. 20.

“It is very important that the people of Hilo have a senator well in advance of the Legislature convening,” Dos Santos-Tam said. “That senator should have time to introduce bills, sign on to other’s bills — they can’t do that if they are sworn in a day before (session starts).”

Outside the practice of gut-and-replace, lawmakers only have one chance to introduce legislation during a bill filing period that lasts about a week in early January.

Whoever is appointed to fill Kahele’s seat will serve the last two years of his four-year term, and can run for re-election in 2022.

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