Senator Kaialiʻi (Kai) Kahele was appointed to the Hawaiʻi State Senate by Governor David Ige in February, 2016 following the untimely and unexpected death of his father, the late Sen. Gil Kahele. He was subsequently elected and re-elected by wide margins in 2016 and 2018.
Kai currently serves as the Majority Floor Leader of the Hawaiʻi State Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Water and Land. Additionally, Sen. Kahele is Vice Chairman of Hawaiian Affairs and a member of the Committees on Ways & Means, and Higher Education. Kai championed a Senate measure which establishes the Hilo Community Economic District that paves the way for County and State investment in Hilo and East Hawai‘i’s economic future. Kai also led the development of a bachelor of science in commercial aviation program that will commence in the fall of 2019 at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.
Lawmakers from other states have also recognized Kai’s leadership skills. During the 19th Annual Western Legislative Academy (WLA), a program of The Council of State Governments West (CSG West), fellow class members elected Senator Kahele as their Class President.
Kai is also an 18 year veteran, pilot and commissioned officer in the Hawai‘i Air National Guard, United States Air Force where he continues to serve as a Lt Col with the 201st Air Operations Group. During Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Lt Colonel Kahele logged over 2000 hours of military flight time and has commanded dozens of combat missions in theater. Lt Colonel Kahele has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Medal for combat missions flown in Afghanistan, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Hawaiʻi State Active Duty Medal and the Combat Readiness Medal. Lt Colonel Kahele has also been recognized as the Headquarters Pacific Air Forces Guard Officer of the Year, 613th Air Operations Center Guard Officer of the Year and Hawaiʻi Air National Guard “Launa ‘Ole” Traditional Guard Officer of the Year.
Kai is a graduate of Hilo High School and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where he balanced life as an NCAA Division-I student-athlete as a member of the UH Rainbow Warriors Men’s Volleyball Team while earning a B.S. in Education. Kai was a member of the team that went to two Final Fours and the National Championship in 1996. He was voted “Most Inspirational Player” by his teammates and coaches in 1997 and was also recognized as a scholar athlete his senior year.
When not serving the public in the Senate or through his duties with the National Guard, Kai works as a commercial airline pilot with Hawaiian Airlines. He is the former executive director of a non-profit that serves rural Native Hawaiian families in South Kona. Kai and his wife Maria live and are raising their young daughters in Hilo, Kai’s hometown on the Island of Hawaiʻi.