House Republicans on Wednesday organized behind Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang (R, Mililani-Mililani Mauka-Waipio Acres) for the upcoming Legislative session.
In a news release, Fukumoto Chang said:
"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. 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 Wednesday 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.
The defection of Johanson, who was embroiled in a fight to keep his leadership post, leaves House Republicans with seven members.
Sources said Fukumoto Chang, 31, 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).
Another newcomer, Rep. Andria Tupola (R, Kalaeloa-Ko Olina-Maili) will serve as minority floor leader. 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).
In a statement, Tupola said:
“I’m honored that my caucus would trust me as floor leader and know that I will grow and refine my leadership ability. I’m excited to bring fresh perspective and work hard."
Johanson, the minority leader who led the caucus in joining the 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."
Fukumoto Chang, 31, is believed to be the youngest representative chosen as minority leader, assuming the role at a year younger than Johanson was when he was selected in 2012.