Long before the American flag gained its fiftieth star in 1959, Mark Twain famously described Hawaii as "the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean."
With the advent of the Trump era, the Aloha State has become something else, metaphorically speaking: a coal mine — if only insofar as state Rep. Beth Fukumoto can and should be considered a canary for Republicans from the Pacific to the Potomac.
A Japanese-American born and raised in Hawaii, Fukumoto is someone who, as she puts it, "served at every level of the Hawaii Republican Party, from envelope stuffer to party chair." She was just 29 when she unseated a Democratic incumbent in 2012 to begin representing State House District 36 in Honolulu the following January. By 2014, the millennial lawmaker had earned a spot on the Washington Post's "40 Under 40" list of political rising stars — and her colleagues back home had chosen her to represent them as House minority leader.
Then 2016 happened.
After publicly airing her disapproval this time last year of the "disingenuous cacophony" offered up by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, and later doubling down in a speech at the 2017 Hawaii Women's March, where she reiterated that the rhetoric of the newly inaugurated president "had no place in the Republican Party," Fukumoto found herself abruptly ousted from GOP leadership.
Now, the woman who was dubbed "the face of Republicanism as it should be" by Hawaii's longest-serving Republican legislator is seeking to cross the aisle — permanently.
Fukumoto's story illustrates the perilous path ahead for the GOP in blue states and swing states alike if the party insists on an adherence to Trumpism, or allegiance to Trump himself, as a requirement to remain a member in good standing — even, it seems, in a place as diverse and blazingly blue as President Barack Obama's birthplace.
The election of Beth Fukumoto had injected new life into a Republican Party perennially on life support in a state that has, with few exceptions, been dominated by Democrats since the 1960s. In a legislature with 76 seats — 51 in the House, 25 in the Senate — the number of Republicans had dwindled to single digits by the time of Fukumoto's debut.
"My caucus told me that they would remove me from leadership unless I promised to not criticize the president for the remainder of his term," Fukumoto recounted in a letter of resignation from the GOP, which she published on March 22. "That was a promise I simply could not make."
She was right not to make it — and her caucus decidedly un-Republican in having demanded that she do so.
When Ronald Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention in 1980, the soon-to-be president called upon the Republicans gathered in Detroit that year "not simply to 'trust me,' but to trust your values — our values — and to hold me responsible for living up to them."
Republicans must continue to hold the president, and ourselves, responsible for living up to the values which the Great Communicator and GOP greats since Abraham Lincoln have entrusted to those of us who have inherited and are invested in the noble party they built.
By holding Trump responsible for living up to these values — a mark he has missed time and again, both as a candidate for the nation's highest office and now as its occupant — Beth Fukumoto did exactly what a Republican in her position should have done, and what more Republicans should be fearless in doing still.
Rather than provide her with backup, Fukumoto's colleagues in the Hawaii House GOP provided their young minority leader with a pink slip — doing their best to ensure that they remain in the minority for the foreseeable future.
Suffice it to say that this is where Republicans nationally, as well as in key battlegrounds such as Virginia and North Carolina, where statewide political success depends more and more on rapidly transforming population centers, may soon find ourselves if the party establishment rallies reflexively around the White House at the cost of running out those, like Beth Fukumoto, who rightly dare to do otherwise.
Mark P. Coombs is a Virginia Republican. He is the immediate past vice chair for the Alexandria Republican City Committee, as well as a former co-chair of precinct operations for the Arlington County Republican Committee and a former grassroots chair for the Young Republicans of Arlington and Falls Church.
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