HONOLULU - A Republican lawmaker in deep-blue Hawaii is considering switching parties to become a Democrat after she was pressured to give up her leadership role for criticizing President Donald Trump.
Rep. Beth Fukumoto said Republican Party members asked her to resign as Minority Floor Leader after she spoke at the Women’s March in Hawaii.
In her speech, she called Trump a bully and said his remarks were racist and sexist and had no place in the Republican Party.
“I raised concerns that that teaches our kids that it’s OK to be a bully, and I think that should have been a nonpartisan message, but the reaction I got from the party and from my caucus was overwhelmingly negative,” Fukumoto told reporters Wednesday. “The pressure on me is getting greater and greater to just comply with the wishes of the national party, and that’s not my job.”
In Hawaii, there are only six Republican representatives in the state House, including Fukumoto, and the state Senate is all Democratic after the lone Republican was voted out of office this year.
The House approved a resolution removing Fukumoto from leadership and naming Rep. Andria Tupola as the new minority leader on a voice vote Wednesday.
“We’re all good, and then she gives the speech at the women’s rally, which was basically an anti-Trump rally,” said Republican Rep. Bob McDermott. “She said our president is a sexist, is a racist, and that we have a bully in the White House. ... That is very problematic for the top elected Republican in the state.”
McDermott and others asked Fukumoto to stop criticizing Trump if she wanted to retain her post, he said.
Not speaking is not an option
“I’m being removed because I refuse to make that commitment,” she said in remarks on the House Floor.
“The minority leader is being punished for taking part in the women’s march. I think that is absolutely disgraceful and appalling,” said Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Republican. Thielen, who says she’s been a Republican since before most of her fellow lawmakers were born, choked up as she defended Fukumoto before the vote.
“My party is the party of Teddy Roosevelt, who established the national parks,” she said. “My party was the party of Goldwater, a social liberal who felt way back then that gays should be allowed to serve in the military.”
Picking a fight
Rep. Gene Ward, minority floor leader, said Fukumoto’s disagreements with the Hawaii Republican Party stretched years before her speech at the women’s rally.
“She picked a fight with her party, she picked a fight with her president, she picked a fight with her caucus and she lost,” he said.
Fukumoto sent a letter to constituents asking for their blessing to switch parties and said she will wait for their replies before taking further steps, but she wasn’t considering becoming an Independent, she said.
“In the state of Hawaii, running as an Independent, it’s a pretty big hurdle,” Fukumoto said. “There’s plenty of room in the Democratic Party for people with moderate viewpoints, and that’s where I stand.”