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October 3, 2012 at 6:07 AM

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Asian Americans are not campaign mud for governor's race

Kelly Steele twitpic

Last Monday, a senior advisor for Sen. Maria Cantwell's campaign for re-election tweeted a photo of Rob McKenna with an LOLCat-style caption: "Why aren't they speaking English? #Asians." The advisor, Kelly Steele, posted the photo on Twitter on Sept. 24.

McKenna, a Republican and the state's attorney general, is running for Washington state governor, against Democrat and former congressman Jay Inslee. McKenna's campaign took a deserved hit in July when it surfaced that a staffer had tweeted "shut up and speak english #asians" before joining his campaign.

Kathlyn Ehl, the staff member, had also tweeted, "If it takes you an entire green light to walk in front of my car GET A WHEELCHAIR #toooldtowalk." I called for her termination. Ehl apologized and did the right thing by resigning.

Steele has apologized for the tweet.

"My attempt at humor was insensitive and inappropriate and I apologize sincerely to anyone I've offended," he said in a statement. A spokeswoman for the Cantwell campaign, Rose Kapolczynski, said in a statement, "Kelly has apologized for his personal post about the Governor's race. There is no place for humor in the discussion of previous insensitive comments."

Thank you for the apology. To be clear, this does not rise to the level of offense in Ehl's tweets, which targeted all elderly people and Asian Americans. Steele's Twitpic was a political satirical attack directed at a single candidate. Political candidates volunteer for public scrutiny and criticism when they run for public office.

It's still problematic for Steele to use Asian Americans as campaign mud. Let's imagine the hashtag was #blacks or #Jews instead of #Asians. No one would have touched that with a ten-foot pole.

The fact is, society believes Asian Americans are easy targets for jokes because of the stereotype that we are quiet and don't complain. This is probably why Ehl felt comfortable sending the tweet in the first place. And it's probably at the subconscious root of why Steele used the same material for an attack on McKenna.

As it turns out, Asian Americans weren't quiet about the tweet. Steele got called out by Asian Americans, including Suzanne Pak who tweeted, "Kelly Steele, as Asian-American supporting Rob McKenna & Dems, I find your tweet offensive ..." Pak is a volunteer for McKenna's and Kathleen Drew's campaign, who is a Democrat running for secretary of state. Pak then tweeted it at The News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan. He wrote about it, and then Seattle Times news reporters followed up.

I think everybody learned something today, don't you?

Update 1:14 p.m.

Also for your reading, here is a News Tribune column that Peter Callaghan wrote.

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