Fukumoto to leave ‘failing party’ and seek Democratic Party membership

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A Hawaii lawmaker has decided to leave the Republican Party and is seeking membership in the Democratic Party.

Rep. Beth Fukumoto, who represents District 36 (Mililani, Mililani Mauka, Waipio Acres), says she made her decision after receiving constituent feedback and personal reflection. She says she will continue to represent her district regardless of political affiliation and understands that the Democratic Party can deny her membership.

“Many people have written in to me saying, ‘Why don’t you just stay in the Republican Party? If you stay with the Republican Party, you can be the voice of the opposition within the party,'” Fukumoto told KHON2. “The truth is, I don’t want to do that. I want to be productive. I could stay. I could continue to criticize. I could be that voice of opposition, but what good does that do for the people of Hawaii, and what good does that do for my district? I think there’s a much better opportunity that if I disagree with what the Republican Party is doing, to be able to work productively as a Democrat to offer a different solution, so that’s what I’m announcing today.”

In a letter to the Republican Party of Hawaii, Fukumoto says, “I don’t believe that I can make a difference in the Hawaii Republican Party.”

She wrote that if she remained a Republican, “I would simply become an obstructionist in a political party that doesn’t want to hear my voice or my message.”

Fukumoto was first elected in 2012.

In February, Fukumoto said she was removed as House minority leader and replaced by Rep. Andria Tupola after being asked to stop criticizing the president.

Previously, Fukumoto told KHON2, “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.”

“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.

When Fukumoto was removed from her leadership position, Fritz Rohlfing, chair of the Hawaii Republican Party, said if Fukumoto does become a Democrat, she should resign and let Gov. Ige fill her seat.

Fukumoto says that when she joined the Republican Party eight years ago, she saw an opportunity to “take a political party that was broken, in a political system that seemed rigged, and even the playing field.” She said that at the time she felt “Democrats represented the status quo, and what we knew was that the status quo was allowing the place that we called home to become so expensive that it was no longer affordable to local families.”

After serving at the State Capitol, Fukumoto says she believes that there are Democrats trying to change things and tried to work with them. She claims what she found was Republican partisanship and that she was wrong to think that her will to change a “failing party” would succeed.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui said in a statement:

“As a fellow member of the Democratic Party, I welcome Representative Beth Fukumoto with open arms, as I would any other individual committed to sharing the same values and philosophies that the party upholds. It’s clear that this was a decision she did not come by lightly, and that she believes this decision is not only best for her, but also in the best interest of her constituents. Going forward, I believe that Representative Fukumoto will continue to ably serve her constituents and the State of Hawaii with great respect and independent thinking.”

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