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Chad Blair: Aloha everybody and welcome to another installment of the Pod Squad, as always Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. Today we are going to talk Republicans, Republican Party presidential politics as well as priorities at the Hawaii State Legislature. And joining us today is none other than the minority leader – not the minority floor leader as I used to make a mistake saying – but the actually minority leader of the Republicans in the Hawaii State House of Representatives, Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang.
Beth Fukumoto Chang: Thanks for having me.
Blair: Well, thanks for coming on such short notice.
And Todd Simmons is our, I would say the editorial page editor more or less.
Todd Simmons: You’re pretty close. It’s opinion editor.
Blair: Opinion editor. We picked the right guy because you have no shortage of opinions.
Simmons: So many.
Blair: And Todd’s actually got a column that will be running by the time you hear this podcast about the winners and losers of Super Tuesday. Meaning local winners and losers, depending on how the presidential candidates did, how they fared locally, their local supporters, correct?
Simmons: Sure. And we write on both sides of the ticket, both republican and democrat, sort of whose candidates fared well and who endorsed the “wrong people” I guess for this primary.
Blair: See there’s that opinion right there…
Simmons: What’s interesting to see on the Republican side is really nobody has lined up behind Trump here locally that I can tell from a leadership standpoint so where his support exists, it must exist among the grassroots and not among leadership.
Blair: Where is the support for Donald Trump? How do you think he will do here in Hawaii?
Fukumoto Chang: You know I there there’s a good chance. It’s hard to gauge because he doesn’t have the usual campaign structure that we look for. But across the country he’s not had that and still done really well. So, I don’t see why he wouldn’t do well in Hawaii too.
Blair: Do you know of any of your colleagues or other people that are prominent in the party, you don’t have to necessarily drop names, but do you know of people personally, republicans that will be backing him?
Fukumoto Chang: Oh yes I do. Some people have preferred candidates still, Ted Cruz is one of them, we have some of our legislators backing Ted Cruz. But I think they would support Donald Trump too.
Blair: Seems like the Ted Cruz folks have a pretty good ground game. It seems like they’ve been more aggressive in trying to get people signed up and so forth. Todd.
Simmons: It’s really the only campaign that we’ve heard from here. We had been engaged by some Cruz ground troops here who are fired up for him. I noticed that one of your collegues, Rep. McDermott has endorsed Cruz, and there seems to be others there as well. But again, no apparent ground gained for Donald Trump or support that I’ve been able to gauge so far. But as you’re saying, we’re really in uncharted waters here.
It’s a very different kind of candidate, one we haven’t seen in any previous races.
Blair: What’s happening nationally? What’s your take on this?
Fukumoto Chang: I would say, if you had asked me six months ago if I thought this is where we would be today, I would have said, “absolutely yes.”
The Republican establishment said, “no, we’re going to stop him, don’t worry about it, don’t talk about it too much,” but I’ve been concerned for a while. It’s taking everything in me not to say, “I told you so.”
Blair: And when you say, “I told you so,” you sound like you’re concerned about Trump potentially being your party’s candidate for president.
Fukumoto Chang: Sure, I think anybody that can’t disavow the Ku Klux Klan, anybody that says that Japanese internment might not have been a bad idea, how can that be the person representing our party.
Simmons: Not to mention the long list of misogynistic things that he’s said. As one of the women who is noted now nationally for being one of the women who are remaking the Republican Party, how do you square that, a candidate who has said such horrible things about women and is being so embraced by the grassroots.
Fukumoto Chang: I think what’s hard is that things are really coming to a head here. This has been a division within the party for a long time. I served as party chair at one point, and we still had that division then. And I think on a national level, because they wanted to win elections, the Republican Party cultivated this grassroots group that tends to be anti-woman and tends to not treat minorities very nicely, and they kept them in the party, even though I don’t think it reflects our party’s values, not that values that we once had, they kept them in there just so that they could win elections, and now they’re taking over. So those voices like mine, those of us that are trying to remake the party, are really struggling up against this behemoth base.
Simmons: It doesn’t surprise me that those people are in the party and I think they’re frankly both parties, maybe more of them in the Republican Party than I would say somehow in the Democrats. But what I do find surprising is that there used to be this regard for the presidency. We expected a level of behavior that people could aspire to, and leadership that was a cut above at the grassroots, so the abandonment of that kind of idealistic position that the presidency used to hold in America is really troubling to me for some reason.
Fukumoto Chang: It is troubling. I think people are voting out of emotion. There’s so much anger in this race and I’ve said this to a lot of evangelical voters who make up a large portion of the Republican base. Evangelical Christians I think are not necessarily looking at what their real values are, instead they’re reacting on emotion and fear and those actually contradict a lot of what they say their values are.
Simmons: How do evangelicals respond to that – being challenged on that specific idea. It’s been jarring to me to hear some of them say, “well, you know Trump’s viable and we can get behind him,” and I think, how can you square your position as an evangelical with Trump’s crassness and profanity and vulgarisms.
Blair: I think they quote “two Corinthians”, is what I always see…kidding.
Fukumoto Chang: You know I think people are not being intellectually honest. I think when confronted – and I’ve been confronting people more and more lately just because I’m really concerned about the direction we’re going and people need to be confronted with the fact that they’re not actually acting out their values, and people don’t like that – but you do occasionally find somebody that stops and thinks, “yeah, you know that’s actually true, if I’m going to believe the Bible and look at the things that the Bible says, our fruits of Christianity: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, does Donald Trump actually fulfill any of those things? No!”
And that’s my usual speech.
Blair: What about Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who has really based his whole campaign on the evangelical vote, who has shown surprising strength. And now that Ben Carson, who did take some of those votes as well, is now apparently suspending his campaign, dropping out for all intents and purposes. As you know, Mililani, your own district, lot of New Hope folks there, there’s definitely a movement here, do you think Cruz might be a viable challenger, particularly if Marco Rubio and John Kasich drop out?
Fukumoto Chang: I think in Hawaii, Cruz is a viable challenger to Donald Trump. I would go so far as to ask the same things of evangelical voters that I ask about Donald Trump, “is he actually displaying your real values? Are they actual biblical values?” I don’t know, I think we’ve seen Ted Cruz do some interesting things; shutting down the government, some of the things that he said about other people – I have concerns there also.
Blair: Carpet-bombing Isis until the sand is glowing green.
Simmons: Exactly, all of those things.
Fukumoto Chang: How is that love?
Blair: How is that Christian?
Simmons: I think if Cruz really were a legitimate alternative, for the Republican establishment anyway, they would have lined up behind him long ago, but if there’s one person that the Republican establishment loathes more than Donald Trump, it’s Ted Cruz.
Fukumoto Chang: Absolutely.
Blair: Well before we go on to what’s going on at the Legislature, give us your crystal ball. It seems like it was working pretty good six months ago, where are we going to be come July and August, I think it’s in Cleveland right? Are you going by the way, to the convention?
Fukumoto Chang: They might not invite me after some of these interviews.
Blair: Are you a delegate?
Fukumoto Chang: I’m not a delegate, you have to join up with a campaign. But I’m sure, once upon a time, I could have gotten a guest pass as the minority leader, but we’ll see what happens.
Blair: What’s going to happen, do you think?
Fukumoto Chang: You know I think there’s a good chance Donald Trump wins. The Republican establishment waited way too long to come out. We saw Romney come out today, but it’s after Super Tuesday. How do you come out after Super Tuesday and think that changes anything. I think they waited too long, I do think we’re going to see Donald Trump pick it up. Ted Cruz is the next best option if the establishment wants to sort of hold their nose and move on with him. But even then, I think the Party’s got some significant concerns we’re going to have to pay attention to.
Simmons: I think the troubling part too, beyond the convention – the brokered convention, to me is absolutely a possibility on that side – but maybe even the more troubling long term prospect is the miniature Donald Trumps that will now pop up among various states and federal races among the country. How then do you manage that going forward if people who think standing for the things that he stands for and saying the things in the way that he does is acceptable political discourse.
Fukumoto Chang: Well a lot of them are already in congress I think.
Blair: I think they are. You know one of the things the caucus does, and now the local Republicans, this is only the second presidential caucus they had, four years ago they had one as well, of course went for Mitt Romney in big numbers, but it brings people into the party, not just people that will always vote Republican, but people can actually walk in on caucus day, it’s just a couple hours, the dinner hour in early evening, and they can sign up, register for the party. What do you think? Do you guys think you might actually be able to pick up some seats here in Hawaii? It has been challenging, I don’t have to tell you the history – seven republicans in the 51 member House, just one in the 25 member Senate, none in Congress or anywhere else now. Can you pick up some party members?
Fukumoto Chang: There’s always an opportunity to pick up some members. What I have consistently said is we need to be looking for legislators that are going to put their communities first above their party, and looking for people that are going to be good and governance, not just good at campaigning. So I’m cautious, I don’t think we should just take anyone. I think it needs to be a slow build.
Blair: Even two or three people in the House and suddenly you become a factor. Not to say you’re not a factor now, but as you know, your party in the House has been used to help coalition build on the Democratic side. Do you feel you’re colleagues on the Democratic side are listening to you guys? It seemed to be when Calvin Say was kicked out of office and Joe Suki came in with Scott Saiki and Sylvia Luke and so forth, that they were reaching out more and listening and having you actually sit on committees and have you not just sit there but have positions of importance.
Fukumoto Chang: Yeah, I think we have a seat at the table. On a very small local level that’s the fight that we’re having. Is it worth learning to compromise, learning to be constructive to keep that seat at the table. Because, why does anybody want you there if all you’re going to do is say no. And I think there’s some members of our caucus that think that they should always say no.
Blair: For ideological reasons.
Simmons: And there’s certainly been some interesting ideas coming out of the Republican caucus, especially in the House this session. I’m looking at some of Cynthia Thielen’s legislation this session, you know, really interesting ideas that are being carried forward by Democrats on her behalf but really originating with her.
Fukumoto Chang: Right, and we actually have, both Rep. Matsumoto and myself have three bills each passing out of the House this year.
Fukumoto Chang: With our names on them, yeah.
Blair: What are they about? That’s Lauren Matsumoto correct?
Fukumoto Chang: Yes, Lauren Matsumoto. So, mine, a pet project of mine, is requiring insurance coverage for STD and HIV testing. Right now, not everybody can go in and just get insurance coverage, I think that’s a problem. They have to pay out of pocket.
Blair: Doesn’t seem like a political issue, seems like a human issue.
Simmons: A public health issue.
Fukumoto Chang: It is. It’s a huge public health issue.
Blair: What else is moving? I know cost of living issues are very important to you folks. All of us agree, it’s the most expensive place to live, what can we do. Any luck on that front?
Fukumoto Chang: I think Rep. Lee — Chris Lee on the energy committee — I think he’s done a good job of trying to adjust the cost of electricity, so I think that’s one of the biggest things that we’ve done to actually reduce cost. But a lot of time in the state, reducing or keeping the cost of living down is more a matter of trying to deregulate as much as possible in ways that we can, but also voting against tax increases. And we have not seen that many tax increases coming out of the House.
Blair: Now so far Lee’s killed the GET increases for the long-term care giver as well as for the HSTA for the teachers and so forth. There is I believe a tax bill to increase vehicle fees and weight tax and registration and so forth and gas — that always seem to me the low hanging fruit that everybody goes for because you can be spread out — but chances are, those are going to go up. How do you feel as a Republican about that?
Fukumoto Chang: I have made a commitment to my community a very long time ago that anything that is transportation-related costs, I’m going to vote no on.
Blair: Ok we’ve got to wrap it up soon.
Simmons: Will you be caucusing on Tuesday with anyone?
Fukumoto Chang: We will be caucusing yes. We’re going to be caucusing up in Mililani for the presidential and then also it’s a long day on Tuesday on the floor.
Blair: Oh that’s right.
Fukumoto Chang: Minority caucus too.
Blair: In fact that could easily go into, based on past history, it could creep into the caucus time true.
Fukumoto Chang: Some of us may not make it to our presidential caucuses.
Blair: Do you have someone that you’re going to vote for? You care to share?
Fukumoto Chang: I actually haven’t decided yet, I’m between Rubio and Kasich. I was a big fan of Jeb Bush but he’s gone now.
Blair: Yeah, he was pretty much the local party’s favorite candidate, but that will not be the case.
Fukumoto Chang: And one of the most moderate in the race actually.
Blair: By the way, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, their names will remain on the ballot I just found that out.
Well I want to thank Todd Simmons our opinion editor for joining me again on the Pod Squad. Thank you Todd.
Simmons: Sure, thank you.
Blair: And Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang.
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Once again Chad Blair for the Pod Squad, take care and aloha.