UPDATED 9/26/11 11:55 a.m.

Jonah Kaauwai, the embattled chair of the Hawaii Republican Party, has stepped down.


Kaauwai informed the party of his intentions Monday morning by email.

“It is with a heart full of mixed emotions, yet with much hope for the future, that I write this letter to you,” wrote Kaauwai, who listed “A Call for Lokahi (Unity)” under the email’s subject matter.

GOP headquarters confirmed Kaauwai’s departure.

Last week, top Republicans circulated a letter among party members stating that they sought Kaauwai’s resignation.

They said that party leaders like Linda Lingle, Charles Djou and Gene Ward had lost confidence in Kaauwai’s leadership, primarily because he had failed to get more Republicans elected.


Interim Replacement Named

Beth Fukumoto replaces Kaauwai as party chair, but on an interim basis.

Fukumoto is a member of the party’s executive committee and has served as the party’s coordinated campaign vice chair.

She has also been employed with the House Minority Office at the Capitol.

Fukumoto was unclear when a permanent chair would be named.

“The goal right now is to just bring unity and move forward,” she told Civil Beat. “With the state that the party is in, the bottom line is we need to get more Republicans elected. Anything I can do to help, I will.”

Party in Peril?

As Civil Beat reported, the Sept. 18 letter from the GOP’s executive committee detailed other concerns about Kaauwai’s tenure, including problems raising money.

The group had $8,829 cash on hand as of June 30, according the most recent financial report on file with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.

During the first six months of the year, the party brought in $35,181 in contributions. It spent $47,532 during the same period.

As well, some party members have expressed concern that Kaauwai has attracted unwanted attention with his strong religious views. Kaauwai, for example, argued during the 2010 election that Republicans should only elect candidates with Christian values.

In an interview with Civil Beat in May, when Kaauwai was re-elected chair at a party convention on Kauai, Lingle said she had spoken to Kaauwai privately about his religious advocacy.

Among other things, she told Civil Beat:

My point is that everybody, regardless of their religion or if they have no religion, they should feel welcome in the majority party, because our party is not about religion, it’s about public policy, it’s about government. I think it’s important — this is my personal view — and I am a person of faith, but that is separate from me in politics and government and public policy.

Lingle, a former party chair, is expected to soon announce her intentions regarding at 2012 U.S. Senate run.

The GOP could select a replacement for Kaauwai at the party’s Oct. 15 state committee meeting.


Call For Unity

In his resignation email, Kaauwai acknowledge the executive committee’s “no confidence” vote.

But he also defended his tenure, stating that Republicans recently held a successfully fundraiser, and that the party had fielded a large number of candidates for office in recent elections.

Kaauwai wrote:

My hope lies with the L.L.I.F.E. (Liberty, Limited Government, Individual Responsibility, Fiscal Accountability and Equality of Opportunity) Platform; it is imperative for our Party to join forces as a single powerful entity that is founded on unyielding constitutional American principles and put aside “candidate-centric” and “issue-centric” agendas. We must learn to be inclusive and work together to ensure the longevity of the Party for years to come.

And this:

As a Native Hawaiian and man of faith, I have insisted that there be a place in the Republican Party for all people, regardless of ideology, race or creed. As such, we have motivated and inspired a base of formerly inactive people within politics to the Hawaii Republican Party.

Kaauwai said he had received strong support from party members in recent weeks, urging to him “fight on and remain as Chair.”

Instead, he chose to step down, and quoted a famous phrase from the first Republican president as reason: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Kaauwai said he would remain “intimately involved” in the Republican Party: “I am forever dedicated to growing this Party and making it a place that is inclusive for all Republicans.”

Reaction Mixed

Following Kaauwai’s announcement about his resignation, the GOP used social media to pass the news along and ask members to “share your thoughts here (and keep them PG-13, please).”

Within minutes, a half-dozen Facebook comments were posted.

Lanson Hoopai: “My optimism is a bit… dim, to say the least.”

Peter Kay: “Well so much for the old guard mentoring in the new generation…”

Roosevelt Lamar Freeman: “I just got an email from him calling for ‘lokahi.’ Unity.”

Chris Fagin: “Thank you for your service but it is time to move forward with new leadership and direction.”

Steve Hinton: “Godspeed my friend Jonah. I am grateful to you for the enormous sacrifices that you made and effort that you expended in always trying to do the right thing. We were blessed to have you while we did.”

Nanea Kalani contributed to this article.

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