I rehearsed the words over and over from the back of the black sedan, hired to take me from my red-eye flight to an event at the Republican National Committee headquarters: “We are committed to electing candidates who reflect the full diversity of our nation.”
It was June 2013. I had come from my home state to D.C., to do one job — announce a $6 million investment from the Republican Party to support candidates of color and women running at the state level.
This initiative was one of many meant to change the course of the GOP following its defeat in the 2012 presidential campaign and the subsequent release of its what-went-wrong report, known as the “Growth and Opportunity Project.”
Without a more inclusive message, better representation, less ideological rigidity, and compassionate immigration and economic policies, the report warned, Republicans would continue to lose national elections. It described a party I wanted to help build.
Over the next year, I recruited people to a party that promised diversity, dialogue and the chance to reimagine its foundation. I wanted a government that would be responsible with its power and judicious in its interventions, a leveler when our systems became unbalanced.
Instead, that party nominated a president who sends federal forces to tame American cities yet refuses to use the power of his office to coordinate an effective response to the novel coronavirus.
There are only so many ways to say, “I was wrong.” I’ve exhausted them all.
As the Republican leader in the Hawaii House, I made compromises that I regret. I spoke out when our presidential candidate said he might have supported Japanese American internment, but I couldn’t find the courage to question the implementation of voter identification laws that I should have understood weren’t designed to protect voters.
I made decisions out of political expediency, or hubris, or naivete. Republicans offered an inclusive vision of “Growth and Opportunity” for all; then we elected a man that didn’t even bother to fake it. I couldn’t make it right. I declined to endorse him and criticized his policies. Then, when he won, I continued to disagree with him in public, and my Republican colleagues said they would strip me of my leadership position unless I promised to stop speaking against him. So, I resigned from the party. A few months later, I joined the Democratic Party.
I drew my red line too late. I’ll answer for my choices publicly and privately for years to come. But admitting your mistakes is one of the best ways to keep from repeating them.
Fukumoto switched parties and was deservedly mauled in the primaries in 2018, coming in a distant 5th for the seat won by current HI-1 Democratic Rep Ed Case. She paid for her crimes with her career. She asked Hawaiian voters to give her a chance to redeem herself as a Democrat, and they told her to go straight to the nearest volcano and take a swan dive.
But at least Fukumoto, unlike 99.99% of Never Trump Republicans, isn't asking for absolution or even forgiveness. She deserves neither and has resigned herself correctly to the fact that she'll never receive either one.
Don't feel sorry for her, she's got a nice job at Harvard as a Kennedy School fellow. She's better off than the vast majority of Hawaii right now. The point is, she correctly tried to earn a path to redemption, and was rightfully denied it. She accepted it, and moved on, warning the remaining Republicans a similar fate awaits them this fall and in the years ahead.
I wish her well, actually. But she can never be part of our political process like she was, and has lost the right to do so. She failed her constituents totally. She has to live with that, but so do her constituents. They are the ones we should reserve our empathy for. Not Beth Fukumoto.
We will not forgive. We will certainly not forget.