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July 17, 2012 at 3:39 PM

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McKenna staffer should be fired over tweets about Asians, elderly

Gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna should fire a campaign staff member who posted tweets insulting Asians and elderly people.

In a Twitter update posted in January, Kathlyn Ehl wrote "shut up and speak english #asians." In another, she wrote, "If it takes you an entire green light to walk in front of my car GET A WHEELCHAIR #toooldtowalk."

I think @KathlynEhl may be #toodumbtotweet.

Ehl has apologized. She needs to post an apology on Twitter. McKenna said in a statement that Ehl realizes her comments were hurtful.

The tweets were first reported by The Stranger's Slog, then by our news side reporter Brian Rosenthal on The Seattle Times' Politics NW blog. The tweets have apparently been deleted but here is an archived copy of one of Ehl's tweets.

Our editorial board endorsed McKenna, a Republican and Washington state's attorney general, who is running against Democrat and former congressman Jay Inslee. This incident makes me wonder: If McKenna is willing to forgive and forget this behavior, what behavior would he tolerate in the office of the governor?

I understand naive social media indiscretions. In December, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen fired three of his staff members after they drank at their desks and tweeted about it. Those tweets look like childish antics compared to Ehl's posts, which are offensive to Asians, senior citizens and humans.

The tweets are also dumb. It would be impossible to shut up, and speak English at the same time. It's surprising that McKenna, who has cast himself in this election as the smartest kid in class, is willing to put up with this level of ignorance.

Here is Ehl's apology.

"I would like to sincerely apologize for the tweets which I sent that were published today. These insensitive comments were harmful not just to those groups which I mentioned in the tweets, but also to my family, friends and my co-workers. For causing that pain, I am sorry. My actions were not just unfortunate, they were offensive. It is a lesson to others that social media comments made in frustration not only can hurt others, but they exist long after the moment has passed. Again, I apologize for my insensitivity."

Here is McKenna's statement.

"The tweets sent by a member of my campaign staff, Kathlyn Ehl, which were reported today were offensive and inappropriate. I am glad to see that she has apologized for her actions. The fact that she made the comments before joining my campaign does not make them any less hurtful to Asian Americans and the elderly. They were insensitive and wrong regardless of their context. She has done the right thing by apologizing. I am hopeful that she has learned a humbling lesson that will give her greater perspective about having charity in her heart when considering the challenges faced by others."

Here is a statement from Owen Lei, spokesman for the Seattle nonprofit Asian Counseling and Referral Service.

"We understand people sometimes make mistakes or tell inappropriate jokes. But as an organization that works regularly with marginalized people, many of whom rely on our programs precisely because they face language barriers most of us couldn't imagine, we can't help but be discouraged by comments like this. Honestly, if it were that easy to 'shut up and speak English,' we wouldn't be helping tens of thousands of people a year with multilingual counseling services, ESL job training and legal translation to guide them through various roadblocks. If it were that easy to 'get a wheelchair' we wouldn't be training hundreds of healthcare aides to care for homebound elderly. That said, it appears the staffer in this incident was venting personal opinions and has since apologized for her actions. We will respect her apology, as long as it's based not in shame over potentially making her boss look bad, but rather in a genuine desire to understand the challenges of the groups she targeted and in her own clarity of how hurtful those comments can be."

Asian Pacific Islanders for Civic Engagement is calling on McKenna to commit to more funding for language and interpretation services in light of these "disturbing" comments.

The state should support language and interpretation services. But it should provide the services because it's the right thing to do for its citizens, not because it needs to make amends for a campaign staffer's tweets.

McKenna needs to promptly sever ties with Ehl.

Update 3:12 p.m. 7/18/12

Kathlyn Ehl has resigned from McKenna's campaign. She did the right thing. Here are the details.

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