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Hawaii Republican Threatens to Go Dem After Being Bounced from Leadership Role for Dissing Trump

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto talks with reporters in her capitol office on Feb. 1, 2017, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz)

Elections have consequences. So do protest marches when you are a Republican speaking out against President Trump. And so does a decision by GOP leaders to tell one of their party’s rising stars to be quiet.

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto, who is a Republican for the time being, has told voters in her district that she is thinking about joining the Democratic Party after being ousted from her position as state House minority leader.

Her fellow GOP lawmakers — there are only five of them — asked for her resignation, Fukumoto contended, because of what she said about Trump during the Women’s March in Honolulu last month.

Fukumoto refused.

“I believe it is our job as Americans and as leaders of this body to criticize power when power is wrong,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported she said on the House floor.

That led to a closed-door vote. Fukumoto lost, 3-2.

Fukumoto was elected to the Hawaii State Legislature in 2012 and was given the job of House minority leader. The 33-year-old woman has described herself as a moderate conservative who was drawn to the GOP because of its priorities of cutting government spending and reducing taxes. Her husband, David Chang, is a former chairman of the Hawaii GOP.

Fukumoto was seen as one of the brightest prospects on the GOP’s bench in Hawaii.

But the tipping point came when Fukumoto spoke at the Women’s March last month in Honolulu.

Fukumoto said in the speech that after being booed at a Hawaii GOP convention, she had to tell her 8-year-old niece that sometimes people are bullies.

“We had to explain to my niece later, that sometimes people are angry and they don’t know how to express it so they treat other people badly. We explained that sometimes people are bullies, but that you should insist that they treat people with respect. We told her that you always stand up to bullies no matter who they are,” Fukumoto told the audience.

“Then she watched a bully win the presidency of the United States,” Fukumoto added.

“It doesn’t matter to me who you voted for. People cast their votes for a lot of different reasons. But, no matter who your choice was, the fact remains the same. A man won the White House with anger and hate, and our kids watched it happen. Now, it’s our jobs to make sure they watch us fight back,” she concluded.

That was the last straw for Republicans in the House, and their reaction, Fukumoto said, was the last straw for her, too.

This is not the first time Fukumoto has displeased the leadership of the Hawaii GOP because of her criticism of Trump.

One year ago, she was called out for her criticism of Trump by a fellow Hawaii Republican.

Before the March 2016 Hawaii GOP presidential primary, Fukumoto told Hawaii News Now that Donald Trump was a “problem” for the Republican Party. She also accused Trump of making “racist” and “offensive statements against women and all sorts of other groups.”

Brett Kulbis, a Republican district leader, said Fukumoto should have been punished for breaking a GOP loyalty oath.

But that didn’t stop Fukumoto, who said while she doubted Trump would ever be president, she also felt it was her responsibility to help lead the GOP in a different direction.

“I’ve been very disappointed by this election cycle,” Fukumoto told NBC. “I am one of the few Asian-American millennial women — if not the only Asian-American millennial woman — to serve as a Republican leader in any state, and I think my role in a lot of this presidential election can be to call out some of the concerns of our party with the direction of the nomination process.”

That was one year ago. So, Fukumoto said, while she might have been wrong about the election, nobody in the Hawaii GOP should feel like she blindsided them. Her views were well known.

“This is something that’s been ongoing for some time. Earlier in the summer I had spoken at our state convention and been booed for about 10 minutes straight for expressing sort of similar views,” Fukumoto told NPR, “so I was a little surprised that there was still such a strong reaction. But, you know, this has been coming for some time.”

No one on either side of the story will debate that point. This had been coming for a long time, maybe even longer than Fukumoto realized.

State Rep. Andria Tupola (R), who replaced Fukumoto as House minority leader, said in a statement that she and the other House Republicans had been talking about ousting her for the past two years.

“We believe that it is time for the minority to take a new direction,” Tupola said. “We really want a positive direction for our caucus and for the Republican Party.”

Tupola also disputed Fukumoto’s assertion it was her criticism of Trump that prompted the change.

“Whereas our personal opinions about the president and the respect we pay to him is something that we feel like each individual does,” said Tupola. “But as the leader of the caucus, we’re trying to have a representation of all the voices.”

Eric Ryan of the Hawaii Republican Assembly, a conservative group not associated with the GOP, disputed Fukumoto’s contention that she was essentially booed offstage at the 2016 Republican Party convention because she spoke out against Trump.

“She was booed off the stage because she’s voted like a Democrat, she threatened to jump to the Democrat Party previously,” Ryan told Hawaii News Now.

Fukumoto issued a statement before the closed-door vote that notified her voters she was thinking of switching her party affiliation to the Democrats. She’s leaving the decision up to them.

“They elected me, at the end of the day,” Fukumoto said, “and that’s why I’m not coming right out and saying I’m switching parties because it’s up to them.”