Hawaii is down to six Republicans in the 51-member state House of Representatives and zero Republicans in the 25-member Senate.
Regardless of your political leanings, this should trouble you.
Democracies are at their healthiest when there is a strong and capable opposition party. Even if the minority party is a perpetual minority — as the Grand Old Party has been in Hawaii since statehood — there is value in having diversity of thought in the Legislature.
Citizens count on the minority party to raise issues and solutions that the mainstream is ignoring and to cry foul when those in power abuse their positions. It’s why traditionally blue states like California and New York so often elect Republican mayors and governors. One-party states — like, ahem, Russia or China — are vulnerable to corruption and stagnation.
Which is why the Hawaii Republican Party’s recent actions against Rep. Beth Fukumoto are so disappointing. Its insistence that Fukumoto not criticize Donald Trump, who won a paltry 30 percent of the Hawaii vote in the presidential election, is both stubborn and short-sighted.
And, unfortunately for our democracy, it perpetuates the Hawaii GOP’s irrelevance.
Until recently, Fukumoto was the minority leader and top elected GOP official in the state. She was deposed during a House floor session Feb. 1 as a punishment, she says, for dissent.
The Mililani representative has been a vocal critic of Trump, specifically his treatment of women and minorities. She spoke at the Women’s March on Oahu last month, recalling how she was booed at the state’s GOP party convention for saying she thought Trump’s remarks had been “racist and sexist and had no place in the Republican Party.”
When she joined Civil Beat’s Pod Squad recently, she addressed concerns that, as a Republican, she shouldn’t criticize Trump.
“My feeling is, as Americans, that’s what we do,” she said. “We always criticize our leaders because that’s the power of democracy.”
Now that her own party has censured her, Fukumoto is considering switching parties. “In the last couple years,” she wrote in a statement, “I’ve watched leaders in the Republican Party become less and less tolerant of diverse opinions and dissenting voices.”
Her ouster as minority leader confirms that appraisal, even though Hawaii Republicans are in the worst possible position to make such demands of its members. A party in such dire straits should be welcoming moderate voices and unconventional perspectives while trying to build, not winnow, its caucus.
The Hawaii Republican Party must recognize that it is not the Oklahoma Republican Party, where Trump’s rhetoric and policies are more in tune with the constituents. In Hawaii, a moderate Republican like Fukumoto stands a much better chance of success than a Trump Republican, both with voters and with bipartisan initiatives.
Trump is no ordinary Republican. He is deeply divisive within his own party, even among the most staunchly conservative members (see: John McCain).
In a Civil Beat video, Fukumoto says that she’s received thousands of phone calls, emails and postcards from Republicans and Democrats all over the country praising her for speaking out against Trump and her insistence that the Republican party is better than him.
“I’m a state legislator in Hawaii in the minority party of six people,” Fukumoto says in the video. “I’m not anybody, so for all these people to be standing with me is more meaningful than I can express.”
But the Hawaii GOP insists on standing with its national leadership, not with moderates like Fukumoto, even as Hawaii wholeheartedly rejected him.
Given these skewed priorities, the temptation for Fukumoto to switch parties is understandable. She could thrive as a conservative Democrat, continuing to pursue industry-friendly housing initiatives, for instance.
Meanwhile, by refusing to build a coalition that is in tune with the electorate, the Hawaii GOP will remain nothing more than an afterthought in state politics — a joke that no one, least of all the state’s Democrats, need take seriously.
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