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King to step down from council at end of term, leaves door open for state run

She endorses Robin Knox, who’s set to face King’s 2020 challenger Tom Cook

Maui County Council Member Kelly King (left) announced that she will be stepping down from the council after this term and endorsed environmental scientist Robin Knox to fill her South Maui residency seat. Photo courtesy of Robin Knox / Kelly King

Three-term Maui County Council Member Kelly Takaya King is stepping down from her South Maui seat at the end of the term, though she left the door open for a possible run at state office.

King made the announcement jointly with Robin Knox, an environmental scientist who earned the outgoing council member’s endorsement.

“The accomplishments of the Council’s CARE Committee have been incredible advances in climate change solutions, and Robin is the perfect candidate to take the torch and continue the fight,” King said in a news release Monday. “It’s an important time for me to help step up the mission of locally produced biodiesel, especially with the world situation and Hawaii’s commitment to end fossil fuel use.”

King, who chairs the council’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee, said she’s still leaving open the option to run for state office once the reapportionment lawsuit is settled but also plans to spend more time working with Pacific Biodiesel, the company she and her husband founded over 25 years ago.

Candidates for the state Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives were unable to pull papers to run for office until last week while the court sorted out a legal challenge by a group of residents who raised concerns over reapportioned voting districts.

TOM COOK – Plans to run against Knox

King was first elected to the council in 2016 when she unseated incumbent Council Member Don Couch in a close race that saw King take 23,641 votes to Couch’s 22,592.

King defended her seat against Zandra Amaral Crouse in 2018, winning with 30,950 votes to Crouse’s 12,022 votes, and held off Tom Cook in 2020 with 34,155 votes to Cook’s 25,506 votes.

Cook, a general contractor who grew up Paukukalo, pulled papers on March 1 to run for the South Maui council seat but has not yet filed, according to a state Office of Elections report as of Monday afternoon. Cook said he plans to file and that he wished King well.

“I don’t know Robin Knox, but I’ve heard only good things about her,” he said Monday evening. “I’m looking forward to this campaign and the opportunity for the community to get to know me better and understand my goals and objectives, which are basically to look on a long-term solution for flood control, housing and addressing the sea-level rise.”

Cook admitted that he didn’t have the name recognition when he ran as a council candidate in 2020.

“I encourage everybody to listen to all of the candidates and make an assessment and vote,” he said. “Last time we had 11,000 blank votes and that’s 11,000 people that chose not to make a selection.”

In 2020, there were 11,954 blank votes in the council race for the South Maui residency seat, which was decided by 8,649 votes.

Knox, a 16-year Maui resident and water quality expert, pulled papers on March 2 and filed on March 14, according to the Office of Elections report.

“Kelly has done such a great job and I am determined to build on the six years of work she has invested in our environment and economy,” Knox said in the news release. “I appreciate her belief in my ability to make a difference and accept her endorsement for the South Maui seat.”

Knox, the president and owner of Water Quality Consulting Inc., said she wants to focus on continuing support for affordable housing, supporting a diversified and sustainable economy, protecting Maui County’s environmental quality and ensuring a transparent, efficient and effective government.

“I see Maui County families struggling with housing and food insecurity due to low wages and the high cost of living,” Knox said. “Too many kupuna and kanaka maoli, disabled people and even working families, are homeless. I know we can create a better quality of life for all Maui County residents.”

King touted Knox’s “mature voice and professional experience,” saying that “it would have been difficult to step down without someone of her caliber willing to run in my place.”

While on the council, King served as chairperson before resigning from the position in December 2019 to chair the new climate committee and spend more time with family, she said at the time. In response to reports of dissatisfaction with her leadership, King said at the time: “There’s been a lot of issues from day one, there is always the jealousies, the people who wanted the position, people who are picking on every little thing just trying to make a point, but bottom line is we had an amazing year, we got a lot of stuff done.”

King, who was vice president of Pacific Biodiesel when she launched her bid for council in 2016, has pushed for numerous environmental issues while in office, including vying for the county to settle a lawsuit over its use of injection wells in Lahaina in 2019 and introducing bills last year to ban nonmineral sunscreens and require homes of 5,000 square feet or more to be net-zero energy. She was also chosen as a delegate to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference on behalf of ICLEI USA.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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