Political Radar


November 19th, 2013

Russell Kokubun, the director of the state Department of Agriculture, is retiring at the end of the year.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie had tapped Kokubun, a former Big Island state senator and Hawaii County Councilman, to lead to the department shortly after the governor was elected in 2010.

“I wish to extend my aloha and appreciation to Chair Kokubun, who has informed me of his decision to retire at the end of the year and return to his family farm in Volcano on Hawaii Island,” Abercrombie said in a statement.

“As a former legislator and farmer, Russell brought a unique perspective to the position and has helped to move Hawaii’s agriculture and sustainability initiatives forward. This has included support for farmers and new farm innovation, promoting locally grown food, and investing in a solid agricultural infrastructure. I wish Russell the very best as he follows his heart home to the Big Island to work the land and provide for his family and community.”

Kokubun is an ally of U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and will likely help her with her Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Senate, according to sources close to Hanabusa.

Kokubun is not expected to take a paid role with the campaign, but could help with organization on the Big Island, sources say.

Kokubun was state Senate vice president when Hanabusa served as state Senate president.

Hanabusa is challenging U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in the primary to fill out the remainder of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's six-year term, which runs through 2016.

Abercrombie appointed Schatz over Hanabusa to replace Inouye after the senator died last December.

Here is Kokubun's message to staff:

First, mahalo nui loa for the wonderful experience of working with all of you to further agriculture in Hawaii Nei.  You have demonstrated your professionalism time and again in your commitment to your work for all the people in our community.  It hasn't always been easy but you have persevered to accept all challenges and fulfill the mission for this department in ways that have truly astounded me.  I consider myself to be very fortunate to have had the opportunity to better understand your work within the diverse programs that have and will continue to have positive effects on our entire community.  I am very confident that you all will lead the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to greater prominence in the future.

I will retire at the end of December as Chair of the Board of Agriculture to return to our family farm in Volcano on Hawaii Island.  While still able to bend over and pull weeds, I will have the opportunity to put into practice the policies about agriculture and sustainability that I have advocated for as a legislator and administrator for the past 29 years.  This will allow me to complete my career cycle by returning to the farm and feeding family and community.  This has always been my dream.

With my greatest respect and appreciation and warmest aloha.

10 Responses to “Retire”

  1. innocent observer:

    will more people jump a sinking ship? Abercrombie needs to be concerned about his eroding support of the very people who supported him previously.

  2. Patrick:

    Great guy who has a really forward looking perspective on Hawaii's future. One of the driving forces behind the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan.

  3. tos808:

    jumping ship? more like leaving before ers benefits change come january 1.

  4. Especially Incognito:

    Politics does strange things to a person.
    They change. Their noses grow longer
    and they have people who have hands in
    places no person would dare to go.
    People pull strings and sometimes
    they yank to hard.

    We live on an Island. If you don't know how
    to swim, you sink.

  5. Hawaiino:

    Knew him back in the day, before he ran for County Council. Not much of a farmer then, he ran a hydroponic tomato farm for a local food store, on salary. More of a gardner after that. His career consisted of one successful competitive race for council from Puna and then either incumbency, losses, or appointments. His run for Hawaii Mayor was notable in that he played the spoiler for Steve Yamashiro to defeat Lorraine Inouye in a 3 way primary This was perhaps his greatest political achievement since Steve turned out to be a really good Mayor. His payoff was appointment to the Planning Dept and eventually to State office.

    You don't get to call yourself a professional unless you make your living by it. Wearing the mantle of a farmer is disingenuous for him. he's a professional politician who will live off his Hi-3 pension with max benefits.
    I don't know how much help he will be for Hanabusa, his only predictable support group is Greens and maybe Life of the Land types. Not a natural fit for Colleen.

    But maybe, if she wins, he'll get another appointment!

  6. Kolea:


    Russell Kokubun is unlikely to carry much clout with the "Greens" of "Life of the Land types." He has been much too supportive of the agribusiness companies, who practice a very Unsustainable form of industrial agriculture. Environmentalists do not look upon him as an ally.

  7. Especially Incognito:

    Seems that no one is allowed their opinions
    without being doubted by Ms. Doubtfire.
    Neither does it.

  8. Especially Incognito:

    It is not a she.

  9. Hawaiino:

    All due respect regarding your Oahu/State perspective but I'm referring to Big Island history and dynamics. Russell has left many behind as he cashed in his safe seat in Puna for his careerist motives. He may have alienated those close to these issues in Oahu, but he can still wear two hats here.
    Back in he day, he was the first elected "Green", presaging, and in fact enabling, Keiko Bonk. His alliance of youth, conservation, and anti- geothermal activists and voters carried on after he moved on, through Bonk and finally ending with Jacobsen(s)/Smart.
    Politically, as leaders, none of them could lead a pack of dogs to meat. As council members they were mostly obstructionist, rarely progressive.
    But this is about RK and his latest career move. . After the Gov sweetened his Hi-3 by getting him to resign and take Ag Chair (most importantly opening up to the appointment of Gil Kahele to succeed him) maybe it was prearranged to limit the role to 3 years ? It will be interesting who, and how fast, the Gov replaces him.

  10. Especially Incognito:

    What would it know of "Oahu/State" perspective
    since being a transplant? This is not the Mainland
    and cannot be run like the Mainland.

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