The public images of Sen. Mike Hewitt — and Walla Walla — have taken a hit this week.
Unfortunately, Hewitt did not make a statement until today regarding the claim on a website that one of his staff members made an outrageous retort slamming gays. It went viral, meaning it was seen on millions of computers across the nation.
A quick response would have reduced the nation’s outrage by providing Hewitt’s views on the issue and enfusing context.
Hewitt said the staff member made a big mistake and regrets it.
The posting by Meredith Bennett-Smith on the Huffington Post politics page website says Seattle resident Jay Castro, identified as a reader of Seattle-based alternative weekly The Stranger, called Hewitt’s office in Olympia to question his support for legislation dealing with the ability of businesses to deny services to customers for religious or philosophical differences.
Hewitt staff person is reported to have been asked, “What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won’t sell them gas and food?” The staff member reportedly said, “Gay people can just grow their own food.”
Hewitt, in talking to U-B reporter Sheila Hagar this morning, said his cellphone was in his jacket that he left at the Fairgrounds (where his wife is manager). He said he was outside all day and was unaware of the firestorm triggered by the remark.
Hewitt said his staffer was prodded by the Stranger until he lost his temper and made the inappropriate comment. Hewitt said his staffer called him immediately and they had a discussion about treating people appropriately when they call. (See today’s front page for details.)
Being angry is not an excuse. But it is good Hewitt was unhappy with his staff member and attempted to deal with the problem immediately.
At this point, the story has circulated the globe a few times and has been interpreted in many different ways. It won’t be a shock if this is a punch line for Jay Leno, David Letterman or Jon Stewart.
Hewitt and Walla Walla are not going to look good.
Hewitt’s support of this bad piece of legislation regarding denying service made the situation worse. The piece of legislation by Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, is broad and would seem to open the door for legalized discrimination.
Hewitt conceded to Hagar he should have read the bill more carefully. He said he signed on strictly over concern the issue created when a Richland florist was sued by the state for refusing to provide flowers for a gay wedding.
The state has been a leader in approving gay rights, and we believe that’s something to cheer.
The nation got an unfortunate and apparently unintended snapshot of Walla Walla and the state.
Hewitt needs to make his views clear to all and put this behind us.