Election Day was terrible for Republicans from Niihau to New England, but in Central Oahu at least, two GOP candidates defeated Democrats to win new seats in the Hawaii House of Representatives.
Republican Lauren Cheape edged Democrat Jack Bradshaw by a mere 85 votes to win the open District 45 seat that represents Mililani, Schofield and Kunia, while Beth Fukumoto knocked off 16-year veteran Rep. Marilyn Lee by about 500 votes for the District 36 seat (Mililani, Mililani Mauka and Waipio Acres).
It was the rare bit of good news for the local GOP, which actually lost one seat in the House, kept its only state Senate seat and lost all three congressional contests by large margins.
Now Lee is questioning whether negative mailers from a conservative Christian group may have had something to do with her loss.
“Unfortunately, Marilyn Lee is not interested in defending our religious freedoms,” said one mailer. “Please remember that when casting your vote for State Representative.”
Among other issues, the mailers are critical of what the forum says is Lee’s support for same-sex civil unions, requiring religious hospitals to provide “abortion pills” and for not speaking out against the state Senate’s putting an end to opening prayers.
“I feel my good name in the community has kind of been destroyed by all this,” said Lee, who added, “I will recover.”
Fukumoto said she did not coordinate on the mailers with the Hawaii Family Forum and had not actually seen them until Civil Beat sent her copies Monday.
“I heard that there was something going out, but this actually really surprised me,” she said of the mailers. “I’ve seen people cross the line in elections, and I would say this is a little harsher than I would be. They are coming off as relatively truthful but harsher compared to my campaign. There is a clear difference.”
Fukumoto said she focused on jobs and the economy in her campaign, not same-sex issues or religious freedom.
Calls to Hawaii Family Forum were not returned.
Fukumoto, 29, said she did not know whether the mailers made a difference in the election.
“The race was close, but it was not that close,” she said. “This was not a squeaker.”
But Lee, 72, who has lived in Mililani for 32 years, said, “I have never been targeted like this before.”
Lee had a razor-thin victory in 2010 over Republican Shawn Kawakami, winning by just 16 votes. Civil unions, which was passed by the Hawaii Legislature in 2010 only to be vetoed by GOP Gov. Linda Lingle was an issue in the campaign.
“The churches were very much involved,” Lee said of the 2010 race. “And this time it was about civil unions too but really unusually harsh. It’s kinda scary. I am Episcopalian, and that is Christian, but they are not recognizing that because we accept gay marriage.”
One mailer states: “Our values matter. Marilyn Lee does not support them. Fortunately, Beth Fukumoto does.”
Civil unions, which became law under Democrat Gov. Neil Abercrombie this January, remains an issue, seen as a gateway to same-sex marriage.
Another mailer states, “Marilyn Lee is endorsed and supported by several organizations whose top priority is legalizing same sex marriage in Hawaii during the next legislative session.”
A third mailer states that most of Lee’s campaign contributions came from political action committees, or “special interests groups.”
Lee’s most recent filing does include a lot of contributions from PACs, something not uncommon for Hawaii Democrats. Fukumoto’s most recent filing includes money from a lot of well-known Republicans, something not uncommon for Hawaii GOP candidates.
A fourth mailer, which does not mention Lee, argues that “religious freedom has been quietly under attack in Hawaii for many years and it is time to take a stand.”
Lee fought back.
“We all share the true family values of Hawaii,” a Lee mailer said. “We are one community united by the Aloha Spirit.”
That same mailer featured a photo of Lee and her husband, Sam Lee, who died of cancer in February.
“I remember our joyful wedding day,” the mailer says. “I also remember that on our wedding day, many states still had laws against interracial unions such as ours. Right next door in Virginia, our marriage was illegal.”
The Hawaii Family Forum has been active in local politics since the 1998 battle to amend the Hawaii Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Locally, the forum has been tied to the Hawaii Catholic Conference, part of the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii, and nationally with Focus on the Family, an evangelical ministry based in Colorado Springs that promotes socially conservative views on public policy.
As a 501(c)3, Hawaii Family Forum cannot advocate for or against candidates. But Hawaii Family Advocates is a 501(c)4, and so it “may intervene in political campaigns as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare,” according to the IRS.
To that end, the Honolulu-based HFA “is dedicated to preserving and advancing the interests of family, faith, and freedom.”
It’s not clear if the HFA sent mailers on the behalf of other candidates.
According to its most recent filing with the state Campaign Spending Commission, HFA raised $7,517 during the last election cycle. Contributors include attorney James Hochberg, who has been active in opposing expansion of same-sex rights which he believes comes at the expense of religious freedoms.
HFA’s organizational report lists Lloyd J. Hochberg Jr. of James Hochberg Law Firm as its chairman.
The biggest contributor ($3,000) is identified as a Mililani retiree named William D. Heagney.
Between Aug. 12 and Oct. 22, the HFA spent about $900 on mailers. Lee said most of the mailers came within the last days of the campaign, just before the Nov. 6 Election Day.
The Hawaii Family Forum published a 2012 election survey to help voters. Both Fukumoto and Lee responded to the survey, where both said they opposed legalizing physician-assisted suicide and gambling.
On four other questions, however, Fukumoto answered “yes” while Lee did not provide an answer.
They included asking whether the candidates would allow a “conscience exemption in laws requiring all Hawaii hospitals to provide abortifacient medication to sex assault victims,” would vote for a state constitutional amendment defining marriage “as the union of one man and one woman” and would vote to give religious organizations “the right to refuse outside groups from using their facilities for activities related to civil unions.”
Lee is particularly irked about that last item, as the Legislature approved a narrow exemption for religious groups last session — an exemption that Hochberg fought for.
Lee and Fukumoto clashed during their campaign, with Fukumoto raising concerns about Lee’s votes on taxing pensions and raising the general excise tax. Lee argues that Fukumoto referred to committee votes, not final votes, and distorted her actual record.
In typical campaign tit-for-tat, Fukumoto also says Lee misled voters.
Asked if she would condemn the HFA mailers, Fukumoto said no.
“Everybody has the right to speak their mind, and they deserve to speak their mind,” she said.
Fukumoto, wife of Hawaii Republican Party Chairman David Chang, was elected House Minority Floor Leader by her colleagues last week.
Lee, vice chairwoman of House Finance, says she’s done with politics.
“In some ways it was a little bit of relief,” she said of her electoral loss. “I’ve got kids and I have grandchildren on the East Coast. But I will still be active in the community.”
Campaign mailer from Hawaii Family Advocates promoting Republican Beth Fukumoto over Democrat Rep. Marilyn Lee.