HONOLULU — State Rep. Beth Fukumoto formally announced on March 22 that she is leaving the Republican Party and will seek membership in the Democratic Party.
Fukumoto, who represents District 36 (Mililani Mauka, Mililani), was ousted as minority leader in February after publicly criticizing President Trump. Her letter to the Hawaii Republican Party reads as follows:
“Since becoming a member eight years ago, I’ve suggested our local party should reflect our uniquely diverse community. And I believed that if I was committed to this cause, I could help attract more people to the party.
“But, a little more than a year ago, a fellow caucus member told me, ‘We are the party of middle America. I don’t care if the demographics don’t fit.’ He declared that Republicans are the national majority and that it is our responsibility to represent ‘middle American’ values here in Hawaii.
“It was in that moment that I was finally able to identify the colonial mindset I’d unknowingly run up against for years. No ethnic group in our state is a majority, and more than 70 percent of the population isn’t white. But our Hawaii Republican Party leaders wanted us to adopt “middle American” values instead of holding on to Republican principles that also reflect our own local values, such as responsible stewardship over things like wealth and power.
“This election, I saw members of my party marginalizing and condemning minorities, ethnic or otherwise, and making demeaning comments towards women. So, when I listened as our now top office holder refused to condemn the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, speaking out didn’t seem like a choice.
“A little over a year ago, I was in Washington, D.C. with a group of Republican friends talking about my concerns with Donald Trump’s candidacy and, more specifically, his suggestion about a Muslim registry. They told me it was just rhetoric. I reminded them that a registry was only one step away from internment camps. Less than an hour later, we saw the breaking news headline, ‘Trump Says He May Have Supported Japanese Internment.’ As a woman and the only Japanese American in our (then) seven-member caucus, I had something valuable to add about why our party continues to lose.
“My Japanese American grandparents owned a small grocery store in Hawaii during World War II with a small house attached to the back where my father’s family all lived in cramped space. When word spread through the community that the government was placing Japanese Americans in internment camps, my grandpa destroyed everything written in Japanese, smashed my family’s beautiful Japanese dolls, and buried everything else that would make them look ‘less American’ in the backyard.
“Despite his devastatingly heroic actions, they took my grandpa anyway. He was fortunate enough to be detained for only a few hours; however, thousands of families across the United States weren’t so lucky.
“Every immigrant group has a story of hardship and suffering. Every woman has a story about sexism or inequality. Most people’s stories are worse than mine. I’ve had a lot of opportunities in life, and I truly believed that the Republican Party was a group that believed in creating more opportunities for everyone.
“President Trump’s meteoric success and his unabashed prejudices should have forced our party to address the elements of racism and sexism within the base. But for years, the party allowed it, fearing Democrats, primaries and third-party challenges. With electoral successes across the nation, concerns about disenfranchising minority voters are being buried. The party has ended conversations about how Republican rhetoric and actions threaten any ability to win amongst an increasingly diverse electorate.
“So, I continued to speak out. The day after the inauguration, I spoke at the Hawaii’s Women’s March. I said we should all agree that the campaign remarks made by our president about women and minorities were unacceptable, and that it was our responsibility, regardless of who we voted for, to show our kids that everyone should be treated with respect.
“A call for kindness and respect should have been a non-partisan message, but it was controversial within the party. Within 24 hours, calls for my resignation or censure abounded. My caucus told me that they would remove me from leadership unless I promised to not criticize the president for the remainder of his term. That was a promise I simply could not make.
“Since I became a Republican eight years ago, I’ve served the party at every level from envelope stuffer to party chair. And, I’ve served our Republican legislators as a file clerk, an office manager, a research director and eventually, the minority leader. I dedicated myself to making the Republican party a viable, relevant party in Hawaii. But, what I’ve experienced over the last eight years is that the GOP doesn’t want to change.
“The leaders that remain in the party either condone the problems I’ve identified or they agree with me but are unwilling to stand up and fight. For those reasons, I am resigning from the Republican Party.
“If I chose to stay, I would simply become an obstructionist in a political party that doesn’t want to hear my voice or my message. I don’t believe that I can make a difference in the Hawaii Republican Party, but I still believe there’s hope for other Republicans in other states.
“I want to see all Americans fight for diversity of opinion, moderation, minorities, women, and ultimately, a better party system. Without confronting this problem, Republicans across the country will inevitably discover what it’s like to be a super minority, or a Republican in Hawaii. No matter how many walls are built and travel bans enacted, America’s demographics will keep changing, and the Republican Party can’t keep marginalizing voices like mine and the people that care about what I’m saying.”
State Republican Party Chairman Fritz Rohlfing had told Fukumoto that she should give up her House seat if she switches parties, but she said this week that she will remain in office. She made her decision to leave the GOP after listening to feedback from constituents for two months.
“We are a thriving and inclusive party,” Rohlfing said. “Our deep commitment to national security and economic growth will only help the citizens of Hawaii during the coming years.”
He added, “Rep. Fukumoto was elected as a Republican just over four months ago by the voters in her Mililani district. She should have resigned her legislative seat first so the party could have recommended to the governor several qualified Republicans from whom he could choose to fill the vacancy.”
Honolulu Civil Beat quoted Eric Ryan, president of a minority GOP faction called the Hawaii Republican Assembly, as saying that Fukumoto is “disgraceful” and “an absolutely perfect fit for the Democrat Party, which has severely harmed Hawaii for the past 62 years.”
To see a video by Fukumoto explaining her decision, click here.