HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Rep. Beth Fukumoto announced Wednesday that she wants to leave the Republican Party and become a Democrat, a decision she says will be up to her constituents.
"They elected me at the end of the day, and that's why I'm not coming right out and saying I'm switching parties because it's up to them," said Fukumoto.
The 33-year old lawmaker says she is under constant scrutiny and facing demands for her resignation after publicly raising concerns about President Donald Trump's treatment of women and minorities, and participating in the Women's March on Oahu last month.
"I've been asked by both my party and my caucus to commit to not criticizing the President for the remainder of his term and to take a more partisan approach to working in the Legislature," said Fukumoto. "That is not a commitment I can make."
Fukumoto was elected to the House back in 2012 and is one of the youngest lawmakers to serve as House Minority Leader. But word quickly spread through the State Capitol and House Republicans made a power move by replacing Fukumoto as Minority Leader with Rep. Andria Tupola from Waianae.
"The Minority Leader is being punished for participating in the Women's March. I think that is absolutely disgraceful and appalling," said State Rep. Cynthia Thielen.
Thielen was the only Republican - besides Fukumoto - to vote against the measure stripping Fukumoto of her leadership role.
"God, I'm sorry to lose our Minority Leader, someone I so deeply deeply respect. She's the face of Republicanism as it should be, but won't be anymore," Thielen said through tears.
Meanwhile, other members of the Republican caucus felt Fukumoto betrayed the GOP.
"You are speaking not for yourself anymore, but for all the minority members or all the republicans in the state. It is a high level of responsibility. But if all you ever do is attack you own party...," State Rep. Bob McDermott said before being cut off by the House Speaker.
"There is a facade that this started a week ago. This started two years ago. I'm not going to point to the Representative, Mr. Johanson, but this started a long time ago," said State Rep. Gene Ward.
Rep. Ward is referring to 2014, when State Rep. Aaron Johanson decided to leave the GOP and become a Democrat.
Fukumoto represents Mililani, Mililani Mauka, and Waipio Acres. She says her office is reaching out to constituents by mail, email, phone, and in-person. She says there is no deadline set for her decision.
Fritz Rohlfing, Chair of the Hawaii Republican Party, says he hopes Fukumoto will stay in the GOP. But if she decides to leave, he wants her to resign from office.
"I would ask her to resign. If she does that, our party will be able to propose three Republicans to Governor Ige to select from to replace her. Then if she wants to be in a different party, she can run for that office," said Rohlfing.
Below is the letter sent by Rep. Fukumoto to her constituents: