Star Advertiser January 2, 2015

House Republicans have organized behind Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang as minority leader for the upcoming legislative session.

New Rep. Andria Tupola was chosen as minority floor leader, the caucus announced Wednesday.

“Our caucus worked through a lot of disagreements and differences of opinion in the last few weeks, and that dialogue is important for any organization,” Fukumoto Chang (R, Mililani-Mililani Mauka-Waipio Acres) said in an emailed statement. “I’m glad that we’ll be able to start off the year with a caucus that’s organized and prepared to be strong advocates for the people of Hawaii.”

The announcement came two days after Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson (Fort Shafter-Moanalua Gardens-Aliamanu), the former minority leader, said he was switching parties and joining the House Democrats.

Sources said Fukumoto Chang had secured the backing of Reps. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe), Lauren Cheape (R, Mililani-Schofield-Kunia) and newcomer Feki Pouha (R, Waialua-Kahuku-Waiahole).

Tupola (R, Kalaeloa-Ko Olina-Maili) said she was excited to work on building unity among all members.

“I’m honored that my caucus would trust me as floor leader and know that I will grow and refine my leadership ability,” Tupola said in a news release. “I’m excited to bring fresh perspective and work hard.”

Other members of the caucus include Reps. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii-Kai) and Rep. Bob McDermott (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point).

The defection of Johanson, who was embroiled in a fight to keep his leadership post, left House Republicans with seven members.

Johanson, the minority leader who led the caucus in joining a Democratic coalition backing Rep. Joe Souki as speaker in 2013, said the fight over party leadership did not influence his decision to switch parties, but that he felt some party members were increasingly demanding “ideological purity” and striking a more combative posture.

Fukumoto Chang said she did not believe that to be the case.

“To me, I don’t feel like we’re being driven out,” she said in an interview. “I think that there still is an opportunity to have a viable two-party system.”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFukumoto Chang, 31, is believed to be the youngest representative chosen as minority leader, taking over at one year younger than Johanson was when he was selected in 2012.