Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English announced Tuesday that he is stepping down from his Senate seat Saturday, citing lingering symptoms from a COVID- 19 infection.
“Having been deemed a ‘long hauler,’ I was diagnosed with long-term effects of COVID-19,” English said in a news release. “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. These challenges have placed a number of things into perspective for me, including the need to take better care of my health.”
English, 54, said he contracted COVID-19 in late November while traveling with his family outside of Hawaii. He said his symptoms were mild, but after returning to Hawaii he noticed a drop in his energy levels. He began experiencing pervasive lethargy, memory problems and a fogginess in his thought process.
English said he initially believed he was suffering from depression or issues related to depression, but doctors later determined that he’d been experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19.
Tens of thousands of people throughout the country are believed to be suffering from what doctors have determined are long-term side effects from a coronavirus infection. Many of these “long haulers” had few or no symptoms from their initial infection, according to a recent study, yet developed significant problems later.
Symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog,” sleeping problems, fevers, gastrointestinal abnormalities, anxiety and depression, according to the National Institutes of Health. While doctors don’t know what is causing the persistent symptoms, there have been signs that getting the coronavirus vaccine can help alleviate them.
English, during a news conference at the state Capitol, said he had been vaccinated and that it seemed to be helping, particularly with his persistent headaches.
Upon retiring, he plans to return to his home in Hana and spend time working outside planting. He noted that doctors have suggested that higher levels of Vitamin D might help.
“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,” said English.
English, a Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2000, represents East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Prior to being elected to the Senate, he served on the Maui County Council from 1997 to 2000. English is known for his work championing bills related to Hawaiian culture, the environment and renewable energy.
He sponsored legislation in 2017 that created the Hawai‘i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission, which is tasked with guiding the state’s climate change policies. In 2012 a bill that would have required the Hawaiian language be used in official documents and letterheads of the state was passed by the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
English said Tuesday that the failure of the measure was his biggest disappointment when it came to legislation that he wasn’t able to see enacted.
Officials with the Democratic Party are now tasked with identifying three potential candidates to fill English’s seat. Gov. David Ige will have 60 days from the date that English steps down to pick a replacement from the list.
English said he’s hoping the governor will pick Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who represents portions of East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
News that English is leaving his Senate seat was met with an outpouring of support from local politicians, including Ige, Congressman Kai Kahele and his colleagues in the Legislature. DeCoite called him a “colleague, mentor and lifelong friend” and praised their camaraderie in working together for their Maui County district.
Senate President Ron Kouchi said in a statement that he had “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,” said Kouchi. “While his presence and leadership here at the State Capitol will be missed, I wish him the best of health and look forward to many more years of continued friendship.”