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Republican State Rep. Experiences Backlash After Speaking Out Against Trump In Hawaii


When Beth Fukumoto was elected to Hawaii's State House in 2012, she not only took a seat representing her district on the island of Oahu. She was also asked to serve as the minority leader of Hawaii's House Republicans. That made her one of the youngest people in the country to serve in that role. Fukumoto calls herself a moderate conservative who was drawn to Republican Party priorities in Hawaii such as lowering taxes and cutting government spending.

But last week Fukumoto was voted out as minority leader by the five other Republicans on the Hawaii State House, and now she's considering leaving the GOP altogether because she says her caucus is demanding that she not criticize the president for the remainder of his term. Representative Beth Fukumoto joins us now over the phone. Aloha.


MARTIN: So was it really the women's march? Or was this basically the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back on both sides between you and your party?

FUKUMOTO: I think it was probably the last straw. 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. So I, of course, got re-elected as minority leader with people knowing those views, so I was a little surprised that there was still such a strong reaction. But, you know, this has been coming for some time.

MARTIN: But what views are we talking about here?

FUKUMOTO: So at the women's march, what I had said was that regardless of who you voted for, I thought that some of the rhetoric during the campaign had become racist and sexist, and that we needed to do better essentially for the sake of our kids. I was booed for saying that. And when I repeated those sentiments during the women's march, within 24 hours I was getting calls for my resignation and my caucus was deciding whether or not they should remove me as minority leader.

MARTIN: Their argument was that you were being critical of the party's nominee, now the president of the United States, and that you could not effectively lead them. Don't they have a point?

FUKUMOTO: I think in any other state maybe that would be true. Any - or at least any state where President Trump won the state. But he performed very poorly in the state of Hawaii. And I think even more so Republicans here need to be standing up and saying President Trump and the national Republicans and the direction they're going don't represent our state or our people or our voters. If my caucus wants somebody to represent the national party and to move that direction, then I wasn't the right person. But I do think the only way that the party can grow locally in Hawaii is if we take a drastically different approach.

MARTIN: Well, you're not the only Republican in office who did not agree with either President Trump's tone or his policies. So is the issue here that if you didn't agree with the nominee then you couldn't serve as minority leader? Or do you think it goes beyond that? And does it go beyond that for you?

FUKUMOTO: Their argument was that you're a bad Republican if you dissent. And that's ultimately the crux of it for me, is if people are going to believe that you have to always toe the party line and there's not going to be any room for people to try to make it better through dialogue or discourse, then what's the point of being in a political party that can't have conversations? It's not so much about leadership. It's whether or not this political party is willing to make itself better. And I don't think that it is.

MARTIN: That's Hawaii State Legislature Beth Fukumoto. We reached her at her home office in Oahu. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

FUKUMOTO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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