For political operatives, what you post on the internet before you join a campaign can cost you your job.
Rob McKenna, Washington State’s Republican candidate for governor, accepted the resignation of an aide Wednesday for tweets that she made months before she joined his campaign.
The aide, recent college graduate Kathlyn Ehl, started volunteering for McKenna in April and became a paid policy assistant in June. But before that, she was ranting against Asians and the elderly on Twitter.
As first reported on Monday by Seattle’s alternative and left-leaning weekly, The Stranger, Ehl tweeted in January, “shut up and speak english, #asians.”
This followed another frustrated tweet in November that targeted the elderly, “If it takes you an entire green light to walk in front of my car GET A WHEELCHAIR #toooldtowalk.”
Photo: Courtesy of The Stranger
Granted, the tweets were made by a college senior who perhaps did not know the repercussions of what she posts on the web. But the McKenna campaign had to control the damage, and agonized over three days on what to do with Ehl as calls for her resignation grew.
Even the Seattle Times, the city’s main newspaper which endorsed McKenna, wrote an editorial Tuesday calling for Ehl to be fired.
The paper’s associate opinions editor, Sharon Pian Chan, wrote, “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?”
In the end, her resignation may prove a strategic move for the campaign amid a very tight race between McKenna, the state’s current attorney general, and Jay Inslee, a former Democratic congressman. A poll by GS Strategies and Gallatin Public Affairs released in late June showed McKenna and Inslee tied at 38 percent apiece, with nearly one quarter of voters still undecided.
McKenna could ill afford to be seen as supporting discrimination against two important voter groups. According to the Census Bureau, Washington ranks fifth in the nation in terms of Asian Americans as a percentage of statewide population, at 7.5 percent. Those age 65 and over make up 12.7 percent of population, and statistics consistently show that the elderly are more likely to turn out to the polls on Election Day than any other age group.
The campaign first tried to pass the incident off Monday by telling the public that Ehl had apologized, but it soon became apparent that a simply apology would not fly.
“We understand that the Attorney General has issued an apology about this unfortunate incident,” said Doug Chin, president of the Greater Seattle chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans. “However, words are empty. Does he truly care about our communities? Anyone, regardless of party affiliation, vying to become a leader of this great state should be responsive to the issues of people of color.”
McKenna’s campaign finally relented, and said Wednesday they decided to accept Ehl’s resignation after consulting with their Asian American supporters. This gives the campaign a path to escape from an incredibly damaging, three-day news cycle.
In a statement, McKenna’s campaign manager, Randy Pepple, gave some lasting words of advice to Ehl.
"Life teaches us difficult lessons, and sometimes at a very young age,” Pepple said. “My hope is that she will find some benefit from having learned this lesson now, as it will undoubtedly be a long-lasting one."
Lin Yang is the online political editor for Hyphen magazine, and a native of Washington State.
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