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Couch considering a run for state House

Ing not seeking re-election to South Maui seat

Don Couch

Former Maui County Council Member Don Couch appears to be making a run for political office again, eyeing the South Maui state House of Representatives seat now held by Rep. Kaniela Ing, according to Couch’s campaign website and state documents.

Last week, Couch declined to say whether he would be running for the office, but he hinted at a formal announcement this week.

“We’re exploring that right now,” he said.

Couch’s website displays a photo of him and a graphic with the words: “Elect Don Couch South Maui (D) House” next to it. The website appears to be under construction and advises visitors to “come back in early 2018 for a new chapter for Maui.”

Couch also submitted an organizational report to the state Campaign Spending Commission with his intent to run for the District 11 seat. Leizl Tumbaga of Makawao is listed as his chairperson, and Tina Lia of Kula is his treasurer.

Kaniela Ing

Couch’s apparent decision to run for the state Legislature is part of a succession of Hawaii politicians looking at running for new seats. It began with U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa announcing in September her plans to challenge Gov. David Ige. Then, Ing followed by announcing Monday that he would run for Hanabusa’s urban Oahu seat.

Couch, an executive assistant in the Mayor’s Office, served three consecutive two-year terms as the South Maui council member before Kihei businesswoman Kelly King beat him in last year’s election. Couch reported a cash surplus of $7,704.97 as of June 30, according to state Campaign Spending Commission financial disclosure forms.

Ing reaffirmed his decision to run for Congress on Thursday, and he offered his support to Kihei resident Tina Wildberger to run for his seat.

“I am confident she will be on the right side of issues that our community cares about like Kihei high school infrastructure, environmental protection and keeping our community safe from pesticides and water pollution,” he said.

Wildberger confirmed that she has spoken to Ing, but she was not prepared to make a decision about whether to run for the office. She said she plans to decide before the end of the year after “spending more time in the community.”

Wildberger managed King’s political campaign and considers herself a community activist and advocate. She and her husband run a few small businesses, including Kihei Ice Inc., which manufactures and distributes ice to stores.

No campaign documents were on file for Wildberger.

In the 1st Congressional District race, Ing can expect to face veteran state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim. She announced her bid the seat Wednesday. She could not be reached for comment.

Ing said he plans to serve out his term as a state House member. He reassured South Maui residents that his campaign for Congress would not interfere with his House duties.

“I’m focused on serving South Maui, and I’m currently crafting bills to regulate pesticides and seed companies and pushing the (state Department of Education) to move on Kihei high school, which we funded,” he said. “I’m also putting in extra time in my role as majority policy leader, cracking down on our distorted housing market by taxing luxury and vacant units, subsidizing affordable housing and removing barriers that push or keep people in homelessness.”

A state Office of Elections official said that Ing would not have to vacate his seat to run for Congress, but he would not be able to retain it if he lost. The official added that the only residency requirements for the federal seat are that a person is a U.S. citizen for seven years prior to the election and a Hawaii resident when elected.

Ing could maintain his residency in Kihei, even though the district is on Oahu, the official said.

Ing said his family would move to Washington, D.C., if elected but he would maintain his residence in Honolulu. Ing and his partner, Khara Jabola, have a son, Laguna.

Ing said that his decision to run for Congress was based on where he can “make the greatest impact for the state I love” and to “carry our progressive values as far as possible.”

“Patsy Mink, Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa all represented areas outside of their districts when they ran for Congress,” he said. “But they made the case to Hawaii residents that they were the best fit for the job. I will work to earn the trust of each voter the same way they did, by listening to their needs and connecting through our shared island values one person at a time.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.