Political staffer taking heat after controversial Tweet

SEATTLE -- There's another social media mess in the race for governor, but this time it came from a staffer for Sen. Maria Cantwell's campaign.

The Tweet and picture in question were actually commentaries on a different political gaffe by a Republican staffer. However, they have one thing in common: racially charged comments about the Asian community.

Not every joke will get laughs, and Cantwell staffer Kelly Steele's attempt at humor fell flat in some circles. Steele posted a picture of a dour-looking Rob McKenna with the words, "Why aren't they speaking English -- #Asians."

The picture was taken at an Asian-American summit last week where gubernatorial candidates McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee had to wait for translations.

Steele posted the picture as a satirical reference to McKenna's own controversy earlier this summer when a former McKenna staffer Tweeted, "Hhut up and speak English -- #Asians."

McKenna came under fire for not removing her from the campaign, and she eventually resigned.

Tony Lee doesn't like any of this.

"As an Asian-American, I would feel uncomfortable any time there's an attempt to use race," Lee said.

Lee was the moderator at the summit and said Steele's Tweet is in poor taste.

"I think it's very unfortunate," he said.

On Friday, Steele stood by the comments to KOMO News, but later apologized in a statement to the Seattle Times.

Despite the apology, McKenna staffers pounced on the Tweet.

"I'm not convinced that he understands the offense and the hurt that was caused," said McKenna spokesman Charles McCray.

But Lee isn't convinced the Tweet is racist.

"I don't know. To be honest with you, I'm not sure I can make that kind of judgment," he said.

Cantwell's senate opponent, Michael Baumgartner, said it is.

"In this instance you have someone seeking to use a racial stereotype deliberately. Not a volunteer on a campaign, not an intern," he said.

Steele didn't respond to emails, calls and Tweets asking for clarification. The Cantwell campaign didn't respond to questions about the Tweet and the Inslee camp had no comment.

The Tweet is still up online and has been for four days.