Fukumoto replaced as House minority leader, wants to leave Republican Party

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A Hawaii lawmaker says she’s been bullied and attacked by her own party.

Now Rep. Beth Fukumoto says she’s thinking of leaving the Republicans and joining the Democratic Party.

Fukumoto, who represents District 36 (Mililani, Mililani Mauka, Waipio Acres), was first elected in 2012. She sent a letter to her constituents informing them of her desire to leave the party and asked for their input.

“The Republican Party is getting increasingly hostile to different opinions. If you followed what happened at the state convention (in May 2016), I got booed for about 10 minutes straight for raising concerns about President Trump, then nominee Trump, and the way he treated women and minorities in many of his remarks. I, at the time, had said this is not, this should not reflect our party,” she told KHON2.

“I repeated those sentiments at the women’s march last week, and since then, there have been many calls for my resignation, and my caucus members have raised concerns about whether or not that means I’m a Republican, whether or not that means I’m fit for leadership, whether or not that means I should even be an elected official. My caucus has asked me to stop speaking out about Trump and to make a commitment. They’ve said they’ll keep me as minority leader if I make a commitment not to speak out against Trump for the remainder of his term.

“I don’t think that’s our job as elected officials, even more so, I don’t think that’s our job as citizens,” Fukumoto said.

It’s a decision that cost Fukumoto her role as House minority leader Wednesday. She was replaced by Rep. Andria Tupola, R, Ewa Villages, Kalaeloa, Honokai Hale, Nanakai Gardens, Ko Olina, Kahe Point, Nanakuli, Lualualei, Maili. Rep. Gene Ward, R, Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley, was named Minority Floor Leader.

The motion prompted an emotional debate on the House floor.

“Now she’s being punished by three-and-a-half of our members for participating in the democratic process,” said Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R, Kailua, Kaneohe Bay, before she was interrupted and a recess was called.

Thielen was also at the women’s march.

“Let me just tell you a couple of reasons we were marching and speaking at the women’s march, and I believe the majority leader does this once a year,” Thielen said.

“This has nothing to do with the women’s march. This is a motion on leadership. I don’t see women’s march anywhere in here (on the agenda), and I don’t want to waste my time listening to this,” said Rep. Bob McDermott, R, Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Iroquois Point.

“I’m going to allow that because she, Rep. Thielen, relates her speech to the merits of the resolution, so I will allow it,” said Vice Speaker John Mizuno, D, Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights, Lower Kalihi.

“Despite what was said earlier, she’s not being punished for speaking out for women’s rights. It’s a pattern of self-loathing comments directed at Republicans,” McDermott said.

“I appreciate his comments. It’s all about the women’s march. It’s all about Rep. Fukumoto standing up for women and human rights,” Thielen said.

Fritz Rohlfing, chair of the Hawaii Republican Party, says if Fukumoto does become a Democrat, she should let Gov. Ige fill her seat.

“I’m hopeful that she will remain in the party, I’m urging her to remain and stay,” he said, however, “if somebody wants to switch parties soon after an election, it’s really, I think, a matter of integrity and she should just resign.

“The caucus has a right to determine who its leaders are, and rights to make a decision to switch leaders, including facts on public statements and how they feel about their leader,” he added.

While Fukumoto has not officially made a decision to switch parties, she told KHON2 she does not intend on resigning from office.

“At this point, until I hear from my constituents, I don’t want to make any speculation as I’ve committed to them. It’s about them and what they want, so I want to make sure I hear from them before I start speculating or even digging into what staying will look like,” she said.

“What I’m hoping my constituents and I can have a dialogue about, what’s been happening is that my party’s getting increasingly insistent that I stop working across party lines, and that I start becoming more partisan in my approach,” Fukumoto explained to KHON2. “They would prefer me to be a representative of the Republican Party in Hawaii, and I’m a representative of Mililani. If those things are mutually exclusive, then I’m going to choose Mililani.”

Fukumoto was the youngest person to ever serve as the House minority leader in Hawaii, and the youngest woman to hold a caucus leader position in the United States.

Prior to our conversation, Fukumoto issued the following statement:

In the last couple years, I’ve watched leaders in the Republican Party become less and less tolerant of diverse opinions and dissenting voices. I am under constant scrutiny for working across the aisle to pass common sense legislation that will benefit my district and the people of Hawaii. Today, I’m facing demands for my resignation from leadership and possible censure because I raised concerns about our President’s treatment of women and minorities. I’ve been asked by both my party and my caucus to commit to not criticizing the President for the remainder of his term and to take a more partisan approach to working in the Legislature. That is not a commitment I can make. As a representative of my community, it is my job to hold leaders accountable and to work with anyone, regardless of party, to make Hawaii a better place for our families.

This morning, I sent a letter to my district explaining that I would like to leave the Republican Party and seek membership in the Democratic Party. When I was re-elected in November, I was elected as a Republican, and I want to honor my community’s choice by consulting them before any decision is made. As I articulated in my letter, I encourage my constituents to contact me with input and provide feedback. I was elected by the people of Mililani, and I am here to represent them.

Women’s March on Washington – Hawaii released the following statement:

The Women’s March is a movement founded for women and everyone that supports them, no matter their religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability or party affiliation. As Americans we have the right to come together, march and demand equal treatment under the law. That is why we here at the Women’s March Hawai‘i are so dismayed that the Republican members of the Hawai‘i State House would choose to punish Representative Beth Fukumoto Chang for participating in the Women’s March on O‘ahu on January 21, 2017.

Their decision to remove Rep. Fukumoto as House Minority Leader just for showing up and speaking hopefully about the future of our country is un-American in our view and a slap in the face for the women of Hawai‘i.

Since its inception the Women’s March has been and continues to be a non-partisan Movement because we believe that women’s rights are not be a party issue; they are a human rights issue. We were grateful for Beth having the courage to be a part of the march, to speak her mind so eloquently, on the future of this country and this planet. From all of us here at Women’s March Hawai‘i we are proud to say “Mahalo nui loa” to Rep. Fukumoto for standing with her fellow citizens and for being part of this global movement.

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