About a year ago at this time, Republican state Rep. Beth Fukumoto was shouted down at her own party’s state convention because of her objections to what she said were racist and sexist comments from presidential candidate Donald Trump.

On Saturday, Fukumoto cleared a critical vote by Hawaii Democrats on Oahu to join their party.

Assuming Fukumoto, the former minority leader in the state Legislature, successfully fends off any potential challenge to her application, she will officially be a Democrat later this month.

Rep Beth Fukumoto Legislature. 3 feb 2017
Rep. Beth Fukumoto at the Hawaii Legislature in February. Barring a challenge, she is expected to become a Democrat later this month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But at least one Democrat said she is working on an appeal.

Former state Rep. Marilyn Lee said she will work to gather the necessary signatures to challenge Fukumoto’s application. Lee lost her redistricted Mililani seat to Fukumoto in 2012 and also lost rematches in 2014 and 2016.

Lee said she was disappointed but not surprised by the decision from the Oahu Central Committee, saying that Fukumoto had hired a public-relations firm to help her campaign.

“I am not convinced she is supportive of the Democratic Party and its platform,” she said. “Her voting record on several issues near and dear to the progressive majority is abysmal. She now proclaims to be pro choice and pro marriage equality. What a dramatic reinvention of herself.”

Lee noted that Fukumoto is the second Republican to bolt the GOP in the last few years.

“They may blame that on the Republican Party, but in essence it is their lack of effective leadership in the Republican caucus,” she said. “It is very sad for Hawaii to have such a lopsided Legislature, and even though there are factions, it is still a one-party state. Someone has to get up and lead. It is bad for all of us.”

Chair: Appeal May Fail

State Democratic Party Chairman Tim Vandeveer said he was aware of Lee’s possible appeal, but said he expected that Fukumoto would ultimately join the party.

Marilyn Lee 

“Members of the State Central Committee can appeal, but I am fairly confident that even if it comes up on appeal, we will come to the same conclusion,” Vandeveer said. ‘But I don’t want to speculate too much. As you know, the party is full of surprises.”

Fukumoto said she, too, was aware of Lee’s possible appeal but declined to comment on it.

The executive committee of the party’s Oahu County Committee voted unanimously to accept Fukumoto into the party. The meeting was held at the offices of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Fukumoto said she spent the past three weeks meeting with Democratic leaders and caucus members.

A tweet from House Vice Speaker Della Au Belatti showing support for Beth Fukumoto. Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani is at left. Twitter

“I wanted to make sure we all had a good idea where each of us was coming from, and I think the unanimous vote shows that there is a lot to be said for taking the time to get to know the organization you are trying to join,” she said.

Fukumoto continued: “There were people who turned their views around because they found there was common ground. They weren’t just judging me based on what they saw in the media and at the Legislature.”

Vandeveer said in a press release Monday, “We have maintained from the beginning that we would ensure Rep. Fukumoto a fair process and that should things align and unfold accordingly, we in Democratic leadership would welcome her in.”

Bart Dame, a former chairman of the rules committee for the State Central Committee, said Lee would need to gather signatures from 10 members of the committee by June 28.

Should Fukumoto become a Democrat, the party would have 46 of the 51 seats in the House of Representatives.

There are no Republicans in the 25-member Senate.

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