Want To Know Why Hawaii Has Such A Weak And Ineffective GOP?
A couple of weeks ago I heard a 33 year old Hawaiian state legislator, Beth Fukumoto, being interviewed on NPR. She had a compelling story about criticizing Trump and being stripped of her leadership position in the state House by her fellow Republicans. I thought it might make an interesting story for this blog and then stopped myself with a promise that I would revisit when Beth, a former state party GOP chair and the Minority Leader of the state House, inevitably switched parties and became a Democrat. That happened yesterday, when she made the video up top.
Since 2012 she's been representing one of the few Republican areas of Hawaii-- district 36 (the Mililani Mauka area of Honolulu. (There are no Republicans in the state Senate and only 6-- soon to be 5-- in the state House, out of 51 members.) The GOP, statewide and nationally, never lost an opportunity to tout her as their new friendly face-- like in this post in Newsweek, Nine Women Remaking the Right. The House Republicans ousted her as Minority Leader when she spoke at the Women's March on Jan. 21 and referred to Señor Trumpanzee as a bully.
Wednesday, in a resignation letter to Republicans she wrote a devastating analysis of what the Hawaii GOP is and why it fails so badly.
Since becoming a member eight years ago, I’ve suggested our local party should reflect our uniquely diverse community. And I believed that if I was committed to this cause, I could help attract more people to the party. But, a little more than a year ago, a fellow caucus member told me “We are the party of middle America. I don’t care if the demographics don’t fit.” He declared that Republicans are the national majority and that it is our responsibility to represent “middle American” values here in Hawaii.Last month, the Civil Beat editorial board used Fukumoto's problems with the party to explain why the Hawaii GOP is destined to be irrelevant. "The Hawaii Republican Party," they cautioned, "must recognize that it is not the Oklahoma Republican Party, where Trump’s rhetoric and policies are more in tune with the constituents. In Hawaii, a moderate Republican like Fukumoto stands a much better chance of success than a Trump Republican, both with voters and with bipartisan initiatives. Trump is no ordinary Republican. He is deeply divisive within his own party, even among the most staunchly conservative members... In a Civil Beat video Fukumoto says that she’s received thousands of phone calls, emails and postcards from Republicans and Democrats all over the country praising her for speaking out against Trump and her insistence that the Republican party is better than him... But the Hawaii GOP insists on standing with its national leadership, not with moderates like Fukumoto, even as Hawaii wholeheartedly rejected him... [B]y refusing to build a coalition that is in tune with the electorate, the Hawaii GOP will remain nothing more than an afterthought in state politics-- a joke that no one, least of all the state’s Democrats, need take seriously." Last year Hawaii voters gave Bernie a 69.8% win over Hillary and, in the general election, gave Hillary a massive 251,853 (62.3%) to 121,648 (30.1%) win over Trump. They know what's up.
It was in that moment that I was finally able to identify the colonial mindset I’d unknowingly run up against for years. No ethnic group in our state is a majority, and more than 70 percent of the population isn't white. But our Hawaii Republican Party leaders wanted us to adopt “middle American” values instead of holding on to Republican principles that also reflect our own local values, such as responsible stewardship over things like wealth and power.
This election, I saw members of my party marginalizing and condemning minorities, ethnic or otherwise, and making demeaning comments towards women. So, when I listened as our now top office holder refused to condemn the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, speaking out didn't seem like a choice.
A little over a year ago, I was in Washington, D.C. with a group of Republican friends talking about my concerns with Donald Trump’s candidacy and, more specifically, his suggestion about a Muslim registry. They told me it was just rhetoric. I reminded them that a registry was only one step away from internment camps. Less than an hour later, we saw the breaking news headline, “Trump says he may have supported Japanese Internment.” As a woman and the only Japanese-American in our (then) seven-member caucus, I had something valuable to add about why our party continues to lose.
My Japanese-American grandparents owned a small grocery store in Hawaii during World War II with a small house attached to the back where my father's family all lived in cramped space. When word spread through the community that the government was placing Japanese-Americans in internment camps, my grandpa destroyed everything written in Japanese, smashed my family's beautiful Japanese dolls, and buried everything else that would make them look “less American” in the backyard.
Despite his devastatingly heroic actions, they took my grandpa anyway. He was fortunate enough to be detained for only a few hours, however, thousands of families across the United States weren’t so lucky.
Every immigrant group has a story of hardship and suffering. Every woman has a story about sexism or inequality. Most people’s stories are worse than mine. I’ve had a lot of opportunities in life, and I truly believed that the Republican Party was a group that believed in creating more opportunities for everyone.
President Trump’s meteoric success and his unabashed prejudices should have forced our party to address the elements of racism and sexism within the base. But for years, the party allowed it, fearing Democrats, primaries and third-party challenges. With electoral successes across the nation, concerns about disenfranchising minority voters are being buried. The party has ended conversations about how Republican rhetoric and actions threaten any ability to win amongst an increasingly diverse electorate.
So, I continued to speak out. The day after the inauguration, I spoke at the Hawaii’s Women’s March. I said we should all agree that the campaign remarks made by our president about women and minorities were unacceptable, and that it was our responsibility, regardless of who we voted for, to show our kids that everyone should be treated with respect.
A call for kindness and respect should have been a non-partisan message, but it was controversial within the party. Within 24 hours, calls for my resignation or censure abounded. My caucus told me that they would remove me from leadership unless I promised to not criticize the president for the remainder of his term. That was a promise I simply could not make.
Since I became a Republican eight years ago, I’ve served the party at every level from envelope stuffer to party chair. And, I’ve served our Republican legislators as a file clerk, an office manager, a research director and eventually, the Minority Leader. I dedicated myself to making the Republican party a viable, relevant party in Hawaii. But, what I've experienced over the last eight years is that the GOP doesn't want to change.
The leaders that remain in the party either condone the problems I’ve identified or they agree with me but are unwilling to stand up and fight. For those reasons, I am resigning from the Republican party.
If I chose to stay, I would simply become an obstructionist in a political party that doesn't want to hear my voice or my message. I don't believe that I can make a difference in the Hawaii Republican Party, but I still believe there's hope for other Republicans in other states.
I want to see all Americans fight for diversity of opinion, moderation, minorities, women, and ultimately, a better party system. Without confronting this problem, Republicans across the country will inevitably discover what it’s like to be a super minority, or a Republican in Hawaii. No matter how many walls are built and travel bans enacted, America's demographics will keep changing, and the Republican party can't keep marginalizing voices like mine and the people that care about what I'm saying.
Our old friend Stanley Chang is the progressive Democrat who recently banished the last Republican from the state Senate. He reminded me today that although a lot is made about Hawaii being a functional one-party state, the party is very much split between progressives and garden variety corporate Dems. He seemed happy enough, though, to welcome another non-progressive into the party. "I welcome Rep. Fukumoto's wish to join the Democratic Party, just as countless other Republicans have stood up against Trump. It would have been easier to go along to get along, but I am humbled by her courage in speaking out and now, putting her country above her party. The support of allies like Rep. Fukumoto is the reason why Democrats will succeed in 2018 and beyond."
That all said, don't get overly excited by Ms. Fukumoto's story. After all, she has been anti-choice, anti-LBGT, anti-gun control, and has stood firmly against virtually the entire Democratic Party platform throughout her entire career. The Democratic leadership are, predictably, excited by her switch but in a one-party dominate state, it's fair to ask whether she made this move for political expediency with to higher office in mind, using Trump's insidious yet convenient comments to manipulate the public. A Hawaiian friend based in DC told me that morning that in his opinion "the Democratic Party has opened its tent far too wide, to the point where its founding values no longer matter. We accept more party members from the right than the left. People wonder why the bluest legislature in the nation struggles to pass progressive legislation? This is why."