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Felicia Cowden

HANALEI — “No trauma, no drama, let’s just fix it,” incumbent Kaua‘i County Councilmember Felicia Cowden, 58, of Kilauea, said in a September interview at Kaua‘i Community Radio station KKCR.

As Cowden’s first term as a councilmember comes to an end, she shares what she learned from her radio career. That’s where she got her backbone to help her steer clear of political corruption while still having the kuleana to respect everyone.

“One thing that I’ve learned as a programmer with Kaua‘i Community Radio is how important it is to find ways to solve problems without having to make anybody wrong,” Cowden said.

Cowden has called Kaua‘i home over 31 years, and she is determined to serve Kaua‘i’s people by creating solutions and working cohesively with others.

“Something that really shaped me, I didn’t have a stable childhood, so I lived in 20 towns by the time I was 20 years old in five different states,” Cowden said. “I have been here more than anywhere. I came here when I was 21 years old, and I have been here ever since. For me, this is where I am from, this is home, and this is where my children were born.”

Cowden has two sons, Matthew, 25, and Ian, 22, who inspired her to put a high focus on education and write an educational book, “Life is the School, Love is the lesson: An adventure in free schooling,” which was published in March.

Cowden said the book is as much about life itself and why we learn as it is about the effortless process of mentorship and inquisitive learning. She said that, through this book, during this time of learning from home, parents will see this time as a blessing of deepening family connections.

Cowden studied engineering in college before she moved to Kaua‘i, and then she started her business, Hanalei Surf Company, 18 years ago, which she said shaped a lot of who she is today.

No matter what Cowden is doing at the moment, she said she will stop and help someone out in a heartbeat.

“It’s such an honor to be hired by the voters to be elected in my first term,” Cowden said. “This is the main thing I do because my sons are grown. I no longer have my businesses, and I don’t have competing jobs, so when I say ‘putting people first,’ I really, really mean that.”

Cowden said she was very independent and on her own since the beginning of her sophomore year in high school.

“We also didn’t always have housing,” Cowden said. “Some of that time, I was one of those kids living in the car. Right now I’ve been very passionate, especially in this COVID-19 time, to make sure that we keep our people without housing healthy. That’s why I tend to go out there and really pay attention and really advocate for their needs, and would say if somebody were to ask me what’s my main goal in this position” that it would be working for the homeless and affordable housing.

As far as affordable housing, Cowden is currently working toward helping homeowners keep their homes by finding a way to help them overcome violations.

“What I am working on doing is making sure that people who are struggling to keep their home can manage if they have a violation, that they won’t lose their home if there are violations,” Cowden said. “My goals are to help people who need to make their houses stronger, better and workable for their extended families.”

She continued: “So that they can feel comfortable that their safety is in place and that they can continue to live in that house and take care of their families and work together.”

If elected this November, Cowden would serve her second, two-year term.

Cowden said she will focus on the houseless community, affordable housing, adolescent drug-treatment center, food sustainability and community resiliency, by looking at social enterprise, impact investing, reviewing a council restructure, and opening up communication between the county and its people.

“I introduced a bill with Councilmember Kuali‘i,” Cowden said, “a bill to change the way the market structure goes because it’s unfair and it’s one of the reasons that people aren’t able to have enough houses.”

Cowden said that, besides housing, she is also passionate about Kaua‘i’s food resources and sustainability.

“You can see I am super big on that piece,” Cowden said, “and our own production of products and resilience. I have my own yarden and I love it.”

Cowden is the chair of the council Committee on Public Safety and Human Services.“So this is spot-on to what I care about,” Cowden said. “And I am involved in national organizations on this, and statewide organizations on it. And I am very active in the suicide-prevention community. And what I think, at its core, we have to find a way for our people to have hope.”

She continued: “And it really comes down to how difficult is the economy. That’s the jugular of the problem, but I am weekly, monthly, almost daily have my finger on that pulse.”

Besides serving the community each day, Cowden can be found spending time with her sons, or in the ocean.

“I love to be in the water,” Cowden said. “Swimming. I’ve done all kinds of sports. This year I managed to fracture three vertebrae disks. Currently, I am swimming instead to just get all my strength back up. So I am healing through swimming. But I have been somebody who loves the ocean. I also make video work, editing, storytelling, and I give plants away.”

Cowden was asked if she would run for higher political office in the future.

“If I felt somehow called to do it,” Cowden said. “I am not terribly ambitious politically. And it’s not important for me to be important. It’s important for me to help. And if people want me, I am so there for them. I am honored to have the vote and I feel like I have to work for every vote I get. I don’t take it for granted.”

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Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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