Hawaii lawmaker resigns from Republican
Party to join Democrats
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[March 23, 2017]
By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) - Hawaii lawmaker Beth Fukumoto,
ousted last month as Republican leader of the state's House of
Representatives after publicly criticizing President Donald Trump,
resigned on Wednesday from her party to seek membership as a Democrat.
Fukumoto, 33, the youngest Hawaii legislator to serve as House minority
leader, said divisive campaign rhetoric during the 2016 elections
convinced her the Republican Party no longer reflected her political
values or the interests of her state's diverse population.
"This election, I saw members of my party marginalizing and condemning
minorities, ethnic or otherwise, and making demeaning comments towards
women," she said in an open letter of resignation to the Republican
Fukumoto, who is of mixed Japanese and Irish ancestry, said she found
Trump's comments about banning Muslim immigrants and the possibility of
establishing a registry of Muslim-Americans to be especially troubling.
"I wanted very badly to see the Republican Party denounce his comments,
and that didn't happen," she told Reuters, saying a Muslim registry
struck her as "one step away" from internment camps.
"That for me was the issue that really changed how I felt."
A self-described political moderate, Fukumoto was the first Republican
in 26 years to represent the largely middle-class central Oahu district
outside Honolulu, capital of the predominantly Democratic state.
She said she originally joined the Republicans out of a sense that
Democrats were the status quo party, but she grew gradually
disillusioned with the Republicans.
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U.S. Representative Beth Fukumoto is shown in this undated handout
photo in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., provided March 22, 2017. Courtesy
of Hawaii State Capitol/Handout via REUTERS
She recounted a fellow Republican caucus member admonishing her last
year that they should be considered the "party of middle America"
despite Hawaii's diverse demographics.
Before making the switch, Fukumoto sent out a questionnaire to
constituents seeking their opinions. Of those who replied, 76
percent said they would support her regardless, while most of the
remainder opposed her changing parties, she said.
First elected to the state legislature in 2012, Fukumoto became
leader of the state's tiny House Republican caucus two years later,
only to be removed by her peers in February of this year after she
spoke out against Trump during the Women's March in Hawaii the day
after his inauguration.
As of Wednesday, Fukumoto, became the lone independent among 45
Democrats and five remaining Republicans in the state's lower House,
as she launches a process of applying for membership in the state's
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Joseph Radford)
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