HONOLULU - Rep. Beth Fukumoto announced on Wednesday that she will be leaving the Republican Party and seeking membership with the Democratic Party.  At a press conference, she cited racism and sexism as the core reasons why she's leaving the GOP.

Fukumoto released the following statement:

After nearly two months of receiving constituent feedback and personal reflection, I am announcing today that I am resigning from the Republican Party and seeking membership in the Democratic Party.

When I joined the Republican Party eight years ago, I did so with a group of people my age who were full of hope, ideas and energy. We saw an opportunity to take a political party that was broken, in a political system that seemed rigged, and even the playing field.  To us, Democrats represented the status quo, and what we knew was that the status quo was allowing the place that we called home to become so expensive that it was no longer affordable to local families. It seemed like the Democrats in control weren’t concerned with Hawaii’s high cost of living, growing income inequality, our lack of high-wage jobs or our housing crisis.

After serving at the State Capitol, I discovered that it wasn’t just me and my Republican friends trying to change the status quo. There were good Democrats trying to change things too. So we started working together. But, in doing so, I ran into Republican partisanship that insisted I stop working with Democrats even when it clearly benefitted our community.

The issues that I’ve had with the Republican Party are well-documented and to reiterate them now would be adding fuel to a fire that doesn’t need to keep burning. It’s enough to say that my friends and I were wrong to think that a failing party could be changed just because we had the will to change it. In the process of trying to make a party that spoke about issues that our communities cared about in a way that Hawaii’s voters wanted to listen to, my friends and I uncovered louder and more powerful voices that fought divergence, difference and diversity at every step. This election, those voices won.

I’ve served at every level of the Hawaii Republican Party from envelope stuffer to party chair. And, I’ve worked for Republicans in the Legislature as their file clerk and their Minority Leader. I believe that when you pick a team leaving that team should be a last resort even when you doubt whether you should've ever been on that team in the first place. I did everything I could think of to fight for a better Republican Party. I even spoke out against the President.

In the coming days, I will be talking to Democrats in my district and in the larger Democratic Party as I seek membership in their organization.  Ultimately, it will be up to Democrats to decide if they want to accept me or not, but I want to assure my constituents that I will continue to uphold the convictions I have always demonstrated, regardless of my political affiliation.

In serving my district at the Legislature, I’ve found significant common ground with my Democratic colleagues. Enough common ground that I believe that we can fit comfortably in the same tent. For me, I think the Democratic Party of Hawaii allows enough diversity of opinion that the values and ideas that I’ve always held can find a home there. Democrats that want to change the status quo in Hawaii are still fighting to do it, and I want to help them.

Republican State Chair Fritz Rohlfing released the following statement:

"Rep. Fukumoto's decision to abandon the Hawaii Republican Party is unfortunate.

We are a thriving and inclusive Party. Our deep commitment to national security and economic growth will only help the citizens of Hawaii during the coming years.

I am extremely proud of how our Party welcomes and fosters voices from every background and I look forward to electing more Republicans in Hawaii as we move forward.

Rep. Fukumoto was elected as a Republican just over 4 months ago by the voters in her Mililani district. She should have resigned her legislative seat first so the Party could have recommended to the Governor several qualified Republicans from whom he could choose to fill the vacancy."

Republican colleague Cynthia Thielen released a statement saying that Fukumoto was ousted as Minority House Leader by three members of its then-six representatives.  She says the tiny party's brand is further weakened and its relevance to the wider, diverse constituency looks bleak.

The GOP has only five elected Republican officials in Hawaii, according to Thielen, and all of them are in the state House of Representatives.

Thielen cites the GOP Platform of 1956 in reference to Republican President Dwight Eisenhower:

“In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people’s money, economy or form of government, be conservative.”

Thielen also says the platform of 60-plus years ago included GOP Senator Barry Goldwater's support for gays in the military.

“True Republican leaders don’t promote a morphed, narrow version of the original Republican Party as fundamentalists or practitioners of a me-first attitude and a my-way-or-the-highway mentality,” Thielen said. “I am saddened and dismayed when there are power struggles by self-serving politicians and when the greater good of my party – as it was originally founded – is sacrificed by a few modern-day evangelists.”

Thielen, however, says she will remain with the Republican Party and fight for a moderate party.

Thielen says Rep. Gene Ward, Rep. Bob McDermott and Rep. Andria Tupola led the vote of 3-2 to replace Fukumoto with Tupola on Feb. 1, just 11 days after Fukumoto and Thielen participated in the worldwide Women's March for equality and human rights.  Rep. Lauren Matsumoto abstained from the vote.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui released this statement:

“As a fellow member of the Democratic Party, I welcome Representative Beth Fukumoto with open arms, as I would any other individual committed to sharing the same values and philosophies that the party upholds.  It’s clear that this was a decision she did not come by lightly, and that she believes this decision is not only best for her, but also in the best interest of her constituents.  Going forward, I believe that Representative Fukumoto will continue to ably serve her constituents and the State of Hawaii with great respect and independent thinking.”

KITV Island News will have more on this story at 5, 6 and 10.