The race for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District seat just got a little more interesting. And it was already pretty interesting to begin with.

The entrance Thursday of Beth Fukumoto, a state representative, brings to five the number of recognizable Democrats vying to succeed Colleen Hanabusa, who is leaving Congress in a challenge to Gov. David Ige.

The other candidates are state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, state Rep. Kaniela Ing, Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin and Lt. Gov. Doug Chin.

Fukumoto’s entrance matters for several reasons, most notably this one: She is a former Republican who gained national headlines last year for criticizing and then leaving her party due to her disgust with Donald Trump’s treatment of women and minorities.

Rep Beth Fukumoto running for Congress 2018.
State Rep. Beth Fukumoto, a former Republican-turned-Democrat, has joined the crowded race for Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It was at the Hawaii State Capitol the day after Trump’s inauguration that Fukumoto garnered gobs of attention when she addressed the Honolulu contingent of the Women’s March. Mind you, she was the Hawaii House of Representative’s minority leader at the time.

Not long after that, Fukumoto was removed as minority leader and left the Hawaii Republican Party (some members called her a traitor and a fake) to join the Democratic Party.

While Fukumoto has never run for office as a Democrat, she could appeal to dissatisfied Trump voters who are allowed to vote for Democrats in the Aug. 11 primary.

And Fukumoto very much embraces the standard Democratic platform on LGBT rights, gun control, abortion and climate change, to name just a few issues.

A Race In Flux

The race is far from settled.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday that Kim and Chin are essentially tied in a recent public opinion poll, each attracting roughly 30 percent of the vote. Martin and Ing are in single digits while a remarkable 31 percent of those surveyed said they have yet to make up their mind.

Fukumoto hardly has a lock on the undecided vote, of course. But her candidacy is likely to draw some support from some undecideds and perhaps siphon off votes from other candidates. The CD1 race is in flux, with recent developments further complicating the race.

More on that in a second.

First, why is Fukumoto running?

“I think we need a fresh voice in politics, we need a fresh voice in Congress — but one that’s experienced,” she told Civil Beat Wednesday. “For me, I feel like in the last year I have really shown that I have the courage to stand up to special interests, and that’s what we need in D.C., the courage but then also the ability to navigate the political morass that we are all watching happen in Washington, D.C.”

My full interview with the candidate can be viewed above, which includes her priorities should she be elected. It is also clear that she is positioning herself as a fighter not afraid to challenge the status quo but also to talk about building bridges between the parties.

“I think it’s going to take somebody that is willing to stand up for Hawaii’s values, stand up against special interests, stand up against the establishment, but also know how to navigate the political system,” she said.

Fukumoto continued:

“I think Washington’s not working from anybody’s point of view. But I think specifically for me it’s watching this sort of partisan divide that’s gotten so intense that nobody can even eat together, nobody can have a drink together. It’s just unbelievable, and it’s something that is not serving the American people.”

Changing Prospects

Rumors of Fukumoto’s candidacy have circulated for months, and some Democrats privately grouse that she is not politely waiting her turn to run for higher office.

But then, six years ago no one would have expected Tulsi Gabbard (she was running for the 2nd Congressional District seat at the time) to be a national figure.

When a Hawaii federal seat like Hanabusa’s becomes open, the temptation to run is powerful.

Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, formerly the state Attorney General, is one of the high-profile candidates running to replace Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in Congress. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The CD1 race has also changed in recent months, likely influencing the prospects of the various candidates.

Martin is now council chair again, putting him back in the headlines and in front of cameras as the battle over the city’s budget and rail heats up. But my take is that he seems more interested in running for mayor some day.

Chin’s sky-high profile has gone in the opposite direction, from being the hard-charging state attorney general challenging the Trump administration at every opportunity, to a powerless lieutenant governor. (It comes with the job.)

On Thursday, for example, Chin is expected to unveil the Aina Pono Farm to School logo and provide a program update to private and public stakeholders.

Senator Donna Mercado Kim during floor session.
A recent Star-Advertiser Poll shows State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (above) in a virtual tie with Lt. Gov. Doug Chin for the lead in the Congressional District 1 race. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Lt. Governor Chin will then serve students Kalua Pig from the first state-approved Imu,” a press release from his office reads.

Chin’s shiny armor has also been bruised after revelations that his campaign manager continued to collect a hefty salary from Mark Takai’s campaign long after the congressman passed away.

Less damaging, it seems, has been a YouTube clip that has (as ABC News reported) forced the first-time candidate “to explain a decades-old rant perceived as intolerant of gay people.” Chin apologized, but Ing has made a point of not letting the matter go away.

Ing has his own challenges.

While earning the backing of groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a national PAC previously aligned with progressive leaders like Elizabeth Warren, Ing also ruffled some feathers when he said that the late Sen. Daniel Inouye was “an accused serial rapist” and Hawaii’s version of Harvey Weinstein.

New Chair Honolulu City Council Ernie Martin.
Council Chair Ernie Martin. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“In order for sexual violence to end, men need to know they can no longer get away with it. But when we name an airport after an accused serial rapist, we show them that they can. #TimesUpDanInouye,” Ing wrote on his Twitter account.

As for Kim, she benefits from being one of the CD1 frontrunners and having, as of Jan. 31, raised the most money so far. And with the Legislature in session Kim, like Ing, continues to have a public platform for expressing their positions.

On the downside, Kim was the frontrunner four years ago only to finish a distant second to Takai, who ran the better campaign.

Finally, it’s still possible for other brand-name candidates to enter the CD1 free-for-all, although time is running short in terms of raising campaign cash.

Rep Kaniela Ing speaks in support of the ocean flotilla bill during House floor session.
State Rep. Kaniela Ing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I should also note that, as of last Friday, five other people have pulled papers to run in CD1, including a Green, a Libertarian and two nonpartisan potential candidates. But no Republicans.

It used to be that congressional seats representing Hawaii did not come open very often. There are only four positions, two reps and two senators, and there have been long stretches since statehood in which incumbents have won election after election after election.

And yet, since 2006, Hawaii has had four senators and eight reps (nine if you include Hanabusa, who is serving a second time in D.C.).

And a 10th rep is on its way.

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