Democratic adviser apologizes for satirical anti-Asian tweet against Rob McKenna

Annie Z. Yu | Contributor

A senior Democratic adviser for Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell’s re-election campaign apologized last week for an insensitive tweet he made regarding Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

At last month’s Asian Pacific American Community Summit in Tacoma, Wash., the adviser, Kelly Steele, snapped a photo of McKenna on stage as he waited for his comments to be translated into various Asian and Pacific Islander languages. Steele later posted the photo to his Twitter account, adding the words “WHY AREN’T THEY SPEAKING ENGLISH? #ASIANS.”

Steele said his tweet was a satirical reference to a racist statement made by former McKenna staffer Kathryn Ehl in January. Before she joined McKenna’s campaign, Ehl tweeted “shut up and speak english #asians.” She resigned shortly after the tweet was discovered and reported.

“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,” Steele wrote. He later apologized in a statement issued last week, saying his “attempt at humor was insensitive and inappropriate.”

Ron Chow, co-chair of McKenna’s Asian American Coalition, said he thinks Steele should be fired or forced to resign from his position.

“Mr. Steele’s apology is insincere,” Chow told The Daily Caller. “His apology is like, ‘Hey, you folks started it, I’m just making fun of it.’ No. [There’s] nothing funny about making fun of Asians, I’m sorry.”

Chow also said Steele, given his age and experience, should have been wiser about mocking Ehl’s tweet.

“The young lady, Kathryn Ehl, is [in her twenties] and just got out of school,” Chow told TheDC. “Mr. Steele has been the senior adviser to the democratic party in many states … he should have known better.”

Steele came under fire in 2008, when the Washington Democratic party used the theme song from “The Sopranos,” a movie about Italian-American mobsters, to accompany an ad against Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi. Steele said they chose the song because “it’s a catchy song.”

“It’s a pattern for Mr. Steele to make offensive comments and get away with it,” Chow said. “It’s appalling why he thinks it’s okay for him to do that.”

“Kelly Steele, as [an] Asian-American supporting Rob McKenna & Dems, I find your tweet offensive,” tweeted summit attendee Suzanne Pak.

Cantwell campaign manager Robin Brand could not be reached for comment.

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