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Hawaii's House Republican Leader Says She Was Ousted Over Women's March

Republican and Democratic leaders in the Hawaii House discuss how to proceed with a vote to remove Rep. Beth Fukumoto (center right) as minority leader Wednesday. Once a rising star in her party, Fukumoto says she's asking constituents if she should switch parties.
Cathy Bussewitz

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto is exploring a possible switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party in Hawaii, after her stance against President Trump prompted her colleagues to vote her out as their minority leader, a post she had held since her election in 2012.

Fukumoto said her fellow Republicans ousted her "because she participated in the women's march protesting the Trump presidency," reports Wayne Yoshioka of member station Hawaii Public Radio.

Here's how Fukumoto described the situation in an address to her peers:

"They told me they would keep me in this position if I would commit to not disagreeing with our president for the remainder of his term. Mr. Speaker, I'm being removed because I refused to make that commitment, because I believe it's our job as Americans and as leaders in this body to criticize power when power is wrong."

When she appeared at the recent Women's March event in Hawaii, Fukumoto spoke about how she had been booed and insulted at her party's convention last summer for refusing to endorse Donald Trump's candidacy because she "thought his remarks were racist and sexist," as she said last month.

"Everyone deserves respect," Fukumoto said in a Facebook post about the event. "That should be a non-partisan message."

This week, state Rep. Bob McDermott, one of Fukumoto's five Republican colleagues, criticized her in the House chamber, saying, "You are speaking not for yourself anymore. It is a high-level responsibility. But if all you do is attack your own party and never" — at that point, McDermott was interrupted by the body's vice speaker, who urged him not to assign negative motives to another member.

"I'm stating a fact," McDermott said in reply.

The ouster and possible departure of Fukumoto, 33, from the GOP comes after she emerged as a rising star who could bring energy to her party, which holds only six seats in Hawaii's House and none in its Senate.

The only Republican to vote for keeping Fukumoto in her leadership role was Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who said on the House floor, "God I am sorry to lose our minority leader, someone I so deeply, deeply respect — the face of Republicanism as it should be, but it won't be any more."

Fukumoto says that because her district elected her as a Republican, she wants to respect their wishes — but that she's sent her constituents a letter asking if she should swap allegiances.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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