Republican Rob McKenna is trying to court the Asian American vote. Half of the signs on his campaign headquarters—located squarely in the International District—are written in Chinese characters. But those gestures aren't persuading some key voters.
Alan Sugiyama speaks to reporters.
About 30 Asian Americans, mostly wearing business attire, protested outside McKenna's International District offices today for failing to fire policy aide Kathlyn Ehl, who spewed a controversial anti-Asian blurb on Twitter. Although McKenna's gubernatorial campaign did, in fact, announce that Ehl was resigning this morning, the demonstrators argued that it was too little, too late.
"It's always going to be an issue that he may have racist people on his staff," said Alan Sugiyama.
Indeed, all of this would be easier to dismiss if the GOP wasn't a famously racist party with a modern-day agenda to suppress minority voter turnout and hassle immigrants. But now that the tweet is out, McKenna's previous attempts to portray himself as a moderate look more insincere.
McKenna should have taken the initiative to fire her when the news broke on Monday, they said, but McKenna's spokesman had insisted he was keeping Ehl on staff. It wasn't until after this group of protesters announced their plans late last night that Ehl "resigned" (after she was suspended without pay). Shari Song of the Korean American Coalition said, "McKenna's response wasn't swift enough. He just didn't understand the gravity of the situation."
"What it tells voters," explained protest organizer Frank Irigon, who supports Democrat Jay Inslee, "is that if this is what one staffer on the McKenna campaign believes, what about the other staff who didn't say it? That's what we need to keep in mind."
McKenna spokesman Charles McCray has refused all week to speak to The Stranger, even though we broke the story. When I approached him on the sidewalk this afternoon, McCray insisted that he had to rush into a meeting. But you could look right into the glass windows—the windows with all those signs—to see McCray and others milling about the office. They weren't in a meeting (certainly not any meeting so urgent that he couldn't answer one question).
But even without speaking to him, I can say this: McKenna is afraid of this story. They've been doing damage control for the last couple days, but they've only taken action in response to outside pressure. For instance, McKenna only issued a statement to other news outlets after the news blew up in the Associated Press and other outlets, and they only finally accepted Ehl's "resignation" after the protesters announced they would create a scene at their office. This doesn't show a campaign guided by its values about what's right and wrong. It shows a campaign that courts voters by reactionary pandering.