Hawaiian Rep. Beth Fukumoto’s Departure from GOP Raises Questions About Millennials and the Republican Party
News stories about GOP women feeling “betrayed” by the Republican Party have been breaking since late 2016. Sometimes the breakups come with drama and fanfare. At other times, GOP women, like Hawaiian Rep. Beth Fukumoto, choose clear and measurable actions that inevitably lead them to seek political asylum with the Democratic Party. But, what do these recent shifts say about the Republican Party, millennials, and women?
In a letter posted on Wednesday, 33-year-old Rep. Fukumoto, previously named a “rising star” in the Republican Party, officially resigned from the GOP.
No more silence. #YesAllWomen #HawaiiSaysNoMore pic.twitter.com/zCVcmMdymD
— Beth Fukumoto (@bethfukumoto) March 9, 2017
The letter mentions her issues with marginalization and a “colonial mindset” as just a few of the reasons she chose to leave.
“… a little more than a year ago, a fellow caucus member told me “We are the party of middle America. I don’t care if the demographics don’t fit.” He declared that Republicans are the national majority and that it is our responsibility to represent “middle American” values here in Hawaii.
It was in that moment that I was finally able to identify the colonial mindset I’d unknowingly run up against for years. No ethnic group in our state is a majority, and more than 70 percent of the population isn’t white. But our Hawaii Republican Party leaders wanted us to adopt “middle American” values instead of holding on to Republican principles that also reflect our own local values, such as responsible stewardship over things like wealth and power.
This election, I saw members of my party marginalizing and condemning minorities, ethnic or otherwise, and making demeaning comments towards women. So, when I listened as our now top office holder refused to condemn the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, speaking out didn’t seem like a choice.”
Just two months ago, Rep. Fukumoto was ousted from her position as House minority leader. Having served in the role since 2014, she believes that the increased criticism she received about her role was due to her participating in the Women’s March in Honolulu on January 21 where she shared some tough words on the Republican Party’s stances on immigration, gender, and the policies from Donald Trump.
This wasn’t the first time Rep. Fukumoto expressed concerns about the GOP’s direction.
In an op-ed last year, Rep. Fukumoto expressed concerns that the “leading Presidential nominee [Trump]…could bring Republicans big losses with my demographic — women, minorities, and Millennials.” It seems the writing was on the proverbial wall.
Now, Rep. Fukumoto will turn her sights on the Democratic Party.
While several GOP leaders supported Rep. Fukumoto’s removal as House minority leader, State Houe Rep. Cynthia Thielen opposed the move. She even criticized her Republican peers during Wednesday’s vote for punishing Rep. Fukumoto for “participating in the democratic process.”
What is important to note here is that Rep. Fukumoto is a woman, Asian American and a millennial. Up until Wednesday, she was the youngest woman in the Republican Party to hold a caucus position. Her predecessor, Hawaiian State Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, stepped down in 2014 after also becoming the youngest minority leader at just 32 years old. He is now a member of the Democratic Party.
These departures don’t just signal disillusionment with the Republican Party in general. They point to deeper issues with a race, gender, and age gap that is alienating younger, more diverse party members from the increasingly polarizing ideological stances of the Grand Old Party.
Our February GenForward Survey of over 1750 millennials ages 18-30 shows that young people of color are less confident in President Trump’s legitimacy and preparedness to run the country than their white peers. Not only that, they are increasingly critical of Congress as well. These concerns stem from the rhetoric of the Republican Party, the legislation handed down in Trump’s first 50 days (i.e. Muslim Bans, TrumpCare, budget cuts, etc.), and the Party’s ongoing struggle to reflect the values and political struggles of a younger generation.
While there is no way to tell at this point how these departures will affect the Republican Party’s ability to sustain itself, it does suggest that young, diverse political actors are seeing the Democratic Party as a more viable institution for their ideological commitments and political concerns. And, that can’t possibly bode well for the “party of Lincoln.”