Hewitt counsels staffer for gay remark

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WALLA WALLA — State Sen. Mike Hewitt said this morning that he has counseled a “staffer (who) lost his temper and made an inappropriate comment” about gays that launched a firestorm of criticism.

The brouhaha went viral after the Huffington Post reported the staffer in Hewitt’s Olympia office told a caller that “gay people can just grow their own food” if a bill allowing businesses to refuse to serve customers on religious beliefs passes.

Hewitt, a Walla Walla Republican, is a co-sponsor of the bill authored by Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. He said the bill is currently undergoing revisions.

After the staffer’s comment was reported he called Hewitt and told him what had transpired.

“And we had a conversation about treating people appropriately when they call,” said Hewitt, who declined to identify the staffer.

Hewitt said the staffer is a father of an 8-year-old son and has been known for his compassion and work ethic.

“When you see him interact with the disability people, you would be totally impressed,” Hewitt said. “He is a very, very nice person.”

Hewitt, who did not return several calls from the Union-Bulletin on Tuesday when it reported the local furor the staffers comment ignited, said he was working in his yard and unable to hear his cell phone over the din of the lawn mower, and later in the day he’d left his phone in a jacket at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds.

The Senate bill in question as it has undergone various rounds of negotiations and is not where he wants it now, Hewitt said.

“I probably did not read the bill as well as I should have,” said.

The bill, written in response to a Richland florist’s refusal to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding, seeks to ensure the right of business owners to exercise their religious or philosophical beliefs when doing business. It was crafted in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the florist that contends the woman who owns the shop was discriminating against gays.

The committee working on the senate bill will ask Brown to redraft it with a narrower focus, according to Hewitt. With the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state, committee members foresaw a need to protect the rights of some businesses.

“These people have rights of their own,” Hewitt said. “We did not think this lady was supposed to be able to get sued.”

His own stand on gay marriage is “ambivalent,” Hewitt said. “When I am in a legislative situation, I could care less one way or the other. But I can tell you, the comments I am getting are thank you’s for supporting the silent minority. A lot of these people won’t speak up and say anything.”

A polling of voters in his district was more than 60 percent in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which granted recognition only to opposite-sex marriage, Hewitt said.

On Monday, the staffer’s comment prompted and outcry from Walla Walla tourism professionals, fearing it would damage the city’s reputation as a world-class wine destination cause a backlash of business and tourism boycotts.

Hewitt, however, said no one “is more supportive of tourism in Walla Walla than me,” adding that he owned a wholesale beer and wine company in town for 25 years. “I’ve been supportive of tourism since the ’70s.”

He also said he works with gay colleagues and has a number of gay acquaintances. But his outlook on individual rights and marriage remain traditional.

“I’m just an old-fashioned guy and I have strong beliefs,” he said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Comments

lycoldiva 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"When you see him interact with the disability people, you would be totally impressed" Is he referring to people with disabilities? And how is that related to the issue?

2

jennybuggs 11 months, 2 weeks ago

“I probably did not read the bill as well as I should have”

Seriously? you co-sponsor a bill and you didn't bother to read it carefully? Awesome work ethic there. Especially when you are crafting legislation to help roll back people's civil liberties. If people were still allowed to refuse service to people based on gender or race the US would still be a backward segregated place run by white good ole' boys.

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PearlY 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Private businesses do not control people's civil liberties. Civil liberties are those liberties we have in respect to government.

Nobody has a constitutionally protected right to buy from a private business owner. That is not a civil liberty. In fact, it is the business owners who have, as a civil liberty, an absolute right to decline to do business with individuals on numerous grounds.

There are, however, certain special privileges that legislation has granted to various groups, that require businesses to do business with members of that group even against the business person's wishes. This was a roll-back of the civil liberties of the business owners, and a special protection to members of those groups - protection that the general public doesn't have. Granted there were good reasons to extend those protections to SOME of those groups, particularly blacks, whose actual civil liberties, like the liberty to travel, to vote, or to avail themselves of governmental public services like roads, parks and schools, where being impaired by Jim Crow laws and wide-spread private discrimination. But laws prohibiting discrimination in non-governmental spheres like private businesses are an abridgment of business owners' rights. That abridgement may be justified in your mind (and in some circumstances in my mind too) but at least let's be honest and admit that it is happening.

If you own a business, you have an absolute right to discriminate against me because you despise people whose names start with the letter "P" or because you don't like my writing style, or because you don't agree with my philosophy, or any of literally millions of other possible reasons. That is your right; it is one of your civil liberties. Of course, I could argue that the reason you give is a pretense, and you actually hate me because of my race or sex. And then we're off to court. But if I can't show your reason is a pretext, you'll win.

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namvet60 11 months, 2 weeks ago

As usual - great post PearlY.

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PearlY 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Screeching and howling by professional offense-takers doesn't necessarily translate to any real action that would impair tourism.

I'm reminded of the huge controversy that broke out when the CEO of Whole Foods denounced Obama's health care proposals. Petitions and boycotts against him and his company went viral. And soon fizzled.

I suspected it was much ado about nothing, and even contemplated buying the stock on what I suspected was a brief dip. Wish I had. It's more than tripled since then, on top of issuing a large special dividend last year.

Offense-takers are skilled at taking offense at the top of their voices. That doesn't mean they'll voluntarily sacrifice their own convenience or pleasure by boycotting someplace they enjoy going, just because some staffer of some legislator got a little snippy with some caller.

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