Breaking News: Hawai‘i State Rep. Beth Fukumoto is Leaving State GOP
Hawai‘i millennial Beth Fukumoto leaves post-Trump party after women’s march fallout.
Photos: Aaron Yoshino
Hawai‘i Rep. Beth Fukumoto, the millennial woman lawmaker who once led Republicans in the state House, today (Wednesday, March 22) announced that she is leaving the state GOP to pursue membership in the Democratic Party after a tumultuous year that included her being ousted from leadership, sworn at by a colleague on the House floor and blasted for speaking critically about President Trump at the Women’s March on the state Capitol.
In an interview with HONOLULU Magazine, Fukumoto says she had been mulling over the decision for most of this year, but waited until she had heard from the people of her Mililani-Mililani Mauka district.
“I am going to leave the Republican party and pursue membership as a Democrat,” Fukumoto says. First elected in 2012, she says the party no longer aligns with her views or those of most of the state, who continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
Having just been re-elected in this past year’s election, Fukumoto, 33, says she sent a letter to her district because she wanted to hear from people she represents before making the final decision. “Most people responding said either they’re independent or they’re Democrat or they’re Republican but, at the end of the day, my party affiliation doesn’t matter to them as long as they feel I’m looking out for their best interests when I vote.”
She traces her parting with the party to national as well as local politics. “I think this election showed that appealing to white men is enough to gain the presidency,” she says.
Earlier, Fukumoto was dubbed a bright political light. In September 2013, The Daily Beast political blog called her one of “Nine Women Remaking the Right” and The Washington Post listed her in “The Fix’s 40 under 40” rising political stars.
However, when she tried to advocate for policies that reflected the more diverse demographics of Hawai‘i and the nation, she got shut down. “Nobody wants me to say those things and, even if I say them, they’re not going to listen. And that, at the end of the day, is why I think it’s time to leave. I joined the party thinking that things could be changed,” she says.
Fukumoto says she will begin the process of becoming a Democrat but it’s more involved than simply switching labels.
When she first worked at the state Capitol, she saw decisions made without much public scrutiny. “It was a time in the Legislature that it seemed like every single decision at the time was being made behind closed doors and late, late, late at night.” She adds, “I felt that was an indication that Democrats had too much power; that they didn’t have to share anything with the public.”
In the past several years, Fukumoto says Democrats have become more transparent and the Republicans more rigid.
Two years ago, she was advocating for a more diverse local voice for Hawai‘i Republicans when Rep. Gene Ward asked her if she “actually believed this stuff.” She says he told her: “Listen, this is a party of Middle America and it’s our job to reflect Middle America’s values in the Hawai‘i State Legislature regardless of the demographics.”
Party critics blasted Fukumoto for describing Trump’s remarks as sexist and racist and for calling him a bully at the women’s march.
While she was criticized by some, Fukumoto says she’s received much more positive feedback to her speech at the women’s march. “We got tons of support and more so than I could ever have predicted. People were paying attention.”
Fukumoto received supportive postcards after the women’s march.
Fukumoto describes her district as made up of young family-oriented residents, concerned about the cost of living: “I think that’s why the majority of issues that people are concerned about are quality-of-life stuff, things like traffic, making sure that electric prices are not too high and gas prices and gas taxes are not too high.”
She says she’s happy and honored to represent the district and believes that people are paying closer attention to politics more than ever.
“I don’t think the current existing system is working for regular people,” Fukumoto says. “It’s hard to make a decision between political parties because most people don’t fall into either party fully, and I don’t fall into either party label fully, and to have to pick a label and to only have a binary choice, it’s hard enough for me, but it’s really hard for voters.”
Read more about her in an upcoming issue of HONOLULU Magazine.