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Quote Unquote: Why Hawai‘i Rep. Beth Fukumoto Left the State GOP

As a millennial Republican woman representing Mililani and Mililani Mauka since 2012, Rep. Beth Fukumoto, 34, made headlines. But the youngest person to serve as Hawai‘i’s House Minority Leader felt increasingly isolated from her colleagues, alienated by the remarks of President Donald Trump and in March announced she was leaving the state GOP.


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Beth Fukumoto
Photo: Aaron Yoshino

I WAS WORKING at the Legislature and I saw there were a lot of powerful voices but they all sort of sounded the same. There were a lot of men, there were a lot of older men and I didn’t feel like people with voices like mine were well-represented.

 

 

IT WAS A TIME in the Legislature that it seemed like every single decision was being made behind closed doors and late, late, late at night.

 

I FELT THAT was an indication that Democrats had too much power; that they didn’t have to share anything with the public.

 

I’VE SEEN DEMOCRATS change the way they do business. In particular, the Finance committee is run much more cleanly. It’s much more transparent. I’ve seen an effort by Democrats to be more progressive in the issues facing the state.

 

SEE ALSO: Breaking News: Hawai‘i State Rep. Beth Fukumoto is Leaving State GOP

 

THAT’S SORT OF BEEN EYE-OPENING, because that’s not the picture that I had when I first started working here and when I made my decision to run for office.

 

I HAVE ONE OF THOSE interesting districts, when you look at the numbers, in that I won by a big margin but so did (U.S. Senator) Brian Schatz. And so did (state Senator) Donovan Dela Cruz. I think they really do base their votes on the person.

 

“We can’t let bullies win, kindness should matter and respect should matter.”

 

I THINK THIS ELECTION showed that appealing to white men is enough to gain the presidency. We can’t keep doing that forever. The demographics are changing in the country, and it’s not the right thing to do, you should be appealing to everybody.

 

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY was becoming increasingly purist, and they were demanding from me ideological conformance in a way that I didn’t think was going to continue to represent my district. I didn’t want to keep fighting this battle with my party because I don’t think that’s why I’m elected. I think I’m elected to represent Mililani. I explained to my constituents why I thought it was time to leave.

 

ALL MY WOMEN’S MARCH speech was saying was that we can’t let bullies win and that kindness should matter and that respect should matter.

 

SOME PEOPLE would like me to stay in the party, some people said they’d only vote for me if I switched parties, but the vast majority thought it was my decision and it should be up to me or they don’t care what party I’m in.

 

WHAT I LIKED about the (Republican House) caucus when I first started working here is that there were a lot of women: Lynn Finnegan, Kymberly Pine, Cynthia Thielen and Barbara Marumoto, all very different women, all strong characters who always fought for their districts over their parties and I always looked up to them. They’re the ones who gave me hope that there was a way to move forward for the Republican Party. And now only one of those is left.

 

I LOVE MY DISTRICT and I think that I am a very good voice for them in the Legislature. And Mililani is in my blood.

 

THERE’S STILL SO MUCH change that has to happen, especially in the area of affordable housing. I think that’s the big crisis facing my generation and the Legislature and the City Council right now, really forming what the state of Hawai‘i is going to look like for the next 20 years.

 

I DO BELIEVE Hawai‘i deserves a two-party system. Things are always made better when there’s dialogue.

 

THE WORST PART has been that people make judgments so quickly without all the facts. If I could change one thing, it would be to slow everybody down and ask them to take time to really understand something before they judge it.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY ROBBIE DINGEMAN

 

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Honolulu Magazine February 2018
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