State Rep. Denny Coffman announced Monday he’s resigning from representing the West Hawaii district he’s served for three terms, an action that sets off a chain of events to ensure District 5 has representation in the state House when the annual legislative session convenes Jan. 15.
Coffman, a Democrat representing Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Captain Cook, Ocean View and Naalehu, told West Hawaii Today he’s moving to Nevada to be closer to his daughter, who’s undergoing cancer treatment in Flagstaff, Ariz. Coffman, who lost his wife, Bonnie, to cancer in August, said he’s moving so he can help his oldest daughter, Amy, with her 7-year-old son as she undergoes further treatments.
“I hate to leave Hawaii, but I can’t afford to fly back and forth,” Coffman said. “Family comes before everything else. It has to.”
Coffman’s resignation takes effect Dec. 20.
In the meantime, the District 5 Democratic Party district council will gear up in the next few days to solicit and evaluate candidates to replace Coffman for the 2014 legislative session. Candidates must be Democrats who currently live in the district. The district council will select three candidates and pass them on to the state party, which will forward them to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
The state Democratic Party must submit all three candidates to the governor, who must pick from that list, said Hawaii County Democratic Party Chairman David Tarnas.
“That’s to ensure the candidates who are recommended come from the grass roots,” Tarnas said.
The process has a 21-day deadline.
Hawaii County Councilwoman Brenda Ford, a Captain Cook resident who represents South Kona and Ka‘u, and the most experienced elected official in the district, is term-limited on the council and will end her eight years in December 2014. But she said she will remain on the council until then rather than immediately seek the state office. The council is a nonpartisan office.
“My heart goes out to the Coffman family and the tragedies they have faced in the past year. I certainly understand and accept that Denny has made a decision to step down from his position as state representative under these extraordinary family circumstances,” Ford said. “I want to serve the people of my district and the island to the best of my ability in a capacity that will help them the most. … At this time, and it is no reflection on Rep. Coffman, I have decided to remain on the council and contribute to the end of my term.”
Abercrombie, who is at a conference in Washington, D.C., in a statement praised Coffman for serving his country and the state.
“He represented the people of Hawaii Island well and helped set the state on a viable path to a responsible and economically sustainable energy policy, which will benefit generations to come,” Abercrombie said. “While I was saddened to hear of his decision to step down as a member of the House, I recognize, as does anyone who knows him, that as a father and grandfather matters of the family take precedence. The people of Hawaii are thankful for his service and leadership, and we offer our deepest aloha to his family.”
“It is with deep sadness and regret that I accept the resignation of Rep. Coffman from the state House,” House Speaker Joseph Souki said in a statement.” I am honored to have been able to call Denny a colleague and I, along with the members of the House, offer our sincere sympathies and wish him and his family the best. He will surely be missed.”