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Satirical Tweet and photo by Democratic campaign staffer Kelly Steele aimed at Republican candidate for governor Rob McKenna leads to calls for apology

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Sep. 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm with No Comments »
September 27, 2012 6:59 pm

The photograph of Rob McKenna at last week’s Asian Pacific American Community Summit in Tacoma has been making the rounds on the web.

It shows McKenna waiting for the sometimes lengthy translations of his and Jay Inslee’s answers during a joint appearance at the summit held every four years. While it is not exactly flattering, it doesn’t display anything more than a guy having to stand on a stage with a neutral expression while a dozen translations of various Asian and Pacific Islander languages were completed.

But Kelly Steele, a Democratic party staffer both here and in other states, saw an opportunity for a quick shot at McKenna. Harkening back to an incident in which a young McKenna staffer was found to have sent insensitive Tweets aimed at Asians and the elderly – Tweets sent before she joined the staff -  Steele created this image.


It was quickly noticed by some McKenna supporters.

Someone created some more hostile responses, with hashtags like #kellysteeleispig(expletive) and offensive postings of altered pictures of Steele.

Suzanne Pak, a politically active woman who attended the summit and is a supporter of both McKenna and Democratic Secretary of State candidate Kathleen Drew, was contacted by one of those who replied and was asked to take a look.

McKenna has good relations with Asians Americans and was well received at the summit (though not as warmly as Inslee). To place in his mouth the statement about speaking English that wasn’t his and that he disavowed and to have it come from the spokesman for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s reelection campaign especially troubled Pak.

“The Washington State Dem’s picture, while not flattering to Rob, doesn’t cross the line to becoming offensive,” she wrote. “But by adding the element of racism, Kelly crosses the line and makes a blatantly false accusation about Rob. This may be the sort of thing we can expect from The Stranger or anonymous Tweeters, but not from staff member of a US Senator.

“While this was a cheap reminder of the August tweet incident involving a former junior member of Rob’s campaign, Kelly Steele offended many Asian Americans,” she wrote.

The incident she references and that Kelly says inspired his post involved a staffer, Kathlyn Ehl, who had Tweeted things back in January such as “shut up and speak english #asians.” When the Tweets were uncovered and reported, McKenna  issued this statement:

“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.”

Shortly afterward, McKenna accepted Ehl’s resignation.

Several conversations with Kelly Friday elicited few concessions. He called the Tweet satire and considered it a fair reference to the Ehl Tweets and what he considered a less-than-aggressive response by the McKenna campaign.


“My tweet was a satirical reference to a previous racist statement made by Republican Rob McKenna’s own staffer. The language about speaking English and the hashtag #Asians emanated exclusively from McKenna’s own team, and were initially forgiven by McKenna himself until media pressure caused a quiet resignation days later,” he wrote. “While tweets from my personal Twitter account represent solely my own views and opinions, the fact that my tweet was passed along by the highly-respected group APACE seems to confirm this is simply a case of McKenna supporters upset about revisiting an embarrassing incident from their past.”

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