Republican lawmaker who criticized Trump leaves 'failing' GOP

Republican lawmaker who criticized Trump leaves 'failing' GOP
Published: Mar. 22, 2017 at 2:34 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 22, 2017 at 5:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The embattled Hawaii Republican lawmaker who said she faced calls to resign after publicly raising concerns about President Trump has announced she's leaving the "failing" GOP and seeking membership as a Democrat.

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto, whose district includes Mililani, said in a statement that she sought input from her constituents before making the switch.

"The issues that I've had with the Republican Party are well-documented and to reiterate them now would be adding fuel to a fire that doesn't need to keep burning," said Fukumoto, the former state House Minority Leader.

"It's enough to say that my friends and I were wrong to think that a failing party could be changed just because we had the will to change it. In the process of trying to make a party that spoke about issues that our communities cared about in a way that Hawaii's voters wanted to listen to, my friends and I uncovered louder and more powerful voices that fought divergence, difference and diversity at every step. This election, those voices won."

Fukumoto was elected in 2012 and was one of the youngest lawmakers to serve as House minority leader in the islands.

She was ousted from the position earlier this year, after publicly voicing her opposition to the president, and subsequently announced that she was considering leaving the party.

The 33-year old lawmaker has said she faced considerable scrutiny after raising issue with the president's treatment of women and minorities, and participating in the Women's March on Oahu in January.

Fukumoto said she'll be talking to House Democrats in the coming days to seek membership in the party.

"In serving my district at the Legislature, I've found significant common ground with my Democratic colleagues," she said. "Democrats that want to change the status quo in Hawaii are still fighting to do it, and I want to help them."

The Hawaii Republican Party has called Fukumoto's plans to defect a betrayal, and on Wednesday party Chairman Fritz Rohlfing said Fukumoto should have resigned instead of switching parties so that another Republican could have been chosen to fill the seat.

""Rep. Fukumoto's decision to abandon the Hawaii Republican Party is unfortunate," Rohlfing said, in a statement. "I am extremely proud of how our Party welcomes and fosters voices from every background and I look forward to electing more Republicans in Hawaii as we move forward."

Her departure leaves just five Republicans in the state House; three voted to replace Fukumoto as House minority leader. There are no Republicans in Hawaii's Senate.

In a statement Wednesday, Republican state Rep. Cynthia Thielen called Fukumoto's ousting from her leadership position "coup-like."

"The tiny party's brand is further weakened and its relevance to the wider, diverse constituency looks bleak," Thielen said, in referring to Fukumoto's departure. "I am saddened and dismayed when there are power struggles by self-serving politicians and when the greater good of my party – as it was originally founded – is sacrificed by a few modern-day evangelists."

Fukumoto isn't the first Hawaii Republican to switch parties. In 2014, state Rep. Aaron Johanson left the party to become a Democrat.

Several Democrats have already come out to support Fukumoto, but Hawaii Democratic Party leader Tim Vandeveer said some Democrats are wary of a Republican who wants to join their ranks.

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