Gay swipe ignites local fury

A comment reportedly made by a staffer for Sen. Mike Hewitt has gone viral.

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WALLA WALLA — A Huffington Post item reporting a statement about gays reportedly made by a staff member for Republican state Sen. Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla has drawn national ire from bloggers and concern from locals about the city’s reputation.

The comment was related to a bill introduced Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, and co-sponsored by Hewitt, to allow businesses to deny services to individuals based on religious or philosophical beliefs.

The bill, amending the state’s freedom from discrimination code, was created as a response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed against Richland florist Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

Current Washington law makes it unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. Stutzman said her action was based on her religious objections to gay marriage.

The Huffington Post reported Seattle resident Jay Castro called Hewitt’s office to question his support of the bill, asking a staff person ‘ “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 staffer, who refused to identify himself, reportedly told Castro that if such a scenario were to unfold, “gay people can just grow their own food,” the article stated.

Marketing professionals in Walla Walla expressed concern the comment could hurt the town’s reputation.

In a letter to Hewitt also sent to the Union-Bulletin, Michael Mettler, creative director of Achieva Marketing, called Hewitt’s co-sponsorship of SB 5927 and “the public relations disaster spewing out of your office” an “embarrassment for all of us who live in Walla Walla.”

“... (Y)our support of the bill is short sighted in that the implications effect not only your close-minded sphere of cohorts, but also the tourism industry in Walla Walla upon which people like me (and thousands of your constituents in the Walla Walla Valley) reply upon to make a living,” Mettler wrote.

Calls, texts and emails sent to Hewitt this morning by the Union-Bulletin were not returned.

Mettler, in an telephone interview this morning, said there were organizations “all over the place” calling for a boycott of Walla Walla wines and cancellation of visits to Walla Walla.

“Who knows if there will be any real impact at the end of the day, but Walla Walla will be framed in a negative fashion, Mettler said. “I think it shows a disconnect to who (Hewitt’s) constituents really are.”

And many visitors to Walla Walla “probably don’t share the Senator’s view,” he added.

Mettler makes part of his living through clients who make a large portion of their income off tourism, he noted in his email to Hewitt.

“I work in the PR world and this is certainly the loudest story online and in print this week about Walla Walla, and perfectly timed for Spring Release and the Balloon Stampede!” Mettler wrote.

Michelle Liberty, whose years of public relations background includes a stint as executive director of Tourism Walla Walla, said in a phone interview this morning that if the current furor blows over it will be because the bill itself is “such a failure as a proposal.”

“Sen. Hewitt is from Walla Walla which has a significant gay and lesbian population, so he’s not representing us properly,” she said. “Anytime a community is being exclusive, that’s not a good thing.”

The local lesbian and gay community is probably the least surprised of all by the attitude coming from the Republican senator’s office, she said. “The surprise is knowing he comes from Walla Walla and who we are here.”

Ironically, another Walla Walla Republican state legislator, Rep. Maureen Walsh, mother of a lesbian daughter, gained international acclaim from gay-rights organizations last year when she made an impassioned speech in the Legislature in support of the bill, now law, permitting gay marriage.

Brown and Hewitt’s bill was read for the first time Friday, two days before this year’s regular session of the Legislature ended. Lawmakers are to reconvene May 13 in a special session.

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

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Comments

PeggyJoy says...

Sharon Brown and Mike Hewitt were elected to represent the citizens of the State of Washington, NOT to promote their religious beliefs. If both of them can not or will not, then they need to retire. As for the owner of the Richland Florist Shop.........your an owner of a florist shop in the business to make money from selling flowers, not tell others how to live their lives.

Posted 30 April 2013, 1:39 p.m. Suggest removal

RuralBoy says...

From what I understand the real problem with the Richland Florist shop was that they took the couple's money, entered into a contract, until near the wedding and then refused service, effectively ensuring that the couple did not have flowers at the wedding.

Someone correct me if I am wrong.

Posted 30 April 2013, 5:53 p.m. Suggest removal

wallyworldguy says...

where did you get that info??

Posted 2 May 2013, 6:42 p.m. Suggest removal

loplover says...

I'd like to know if that's the case as well. Hope someone follows up on this.

Posted 3 May 2013, 2:12 p.m. Suggest removal

Myinput says...

I don't agree. It is the RIGHT OF ANY BUSINESS TO REFUSE TO SELL OR PROVIDE A SERVICE TO ANYONE FOR ANY REASON. The florist is a private business owner and if they chose not to sell to someone (for whatever reason) then that is THEIR CHOICE. I don't see anyone getting all up in arms about cemeteries not wanting to bury the guy from Boston. While I agree they are totally two different things - a cemetery is declining a service to bury someone for reaasons they see fit. So, leave the florist alone - it's a private comapny and they can do as they please. Doesn't anyone remember tha the signs that say "we have the right to refuse service to anyone?" The shop is not a government shop - it's no ones business. Move on people.

Posted 6 May 2013, 12:58 p.m. Suggest removal

barracuda says...

Peggyjoy...
RE: ~~~~*"As for the owner of the Richland Florist Shop..... your an owner of a florist shop in the business to make money from selling flowers, not tell others how to live their lives."*
.

Please tell ST Marys Hosp. and the Catholic Church this!
They wont rovide some normal insurance coverage for some people due to their faith based beleifs!

Posted 30 April 2013, 2:07 p.m. Suggest removal

loplover says...

I absolutely detest that catholic hospitals, doctors, and pharmacists are exempted from the law. I believe that this is a secular nation of laws, and that if you think that your particular religious beliefs are going to cause you problems with the duties that your profession entails, then you should find another career.

When people come to this country from other nations and cultures, many of the traditions they prize are simply not allowed here. Examples: When Muslim families move here, they are not allowed to kill their daughters for any reason, much less because they have "dishonored" their families for getting raped. They also are not allowed to force their children into arranged marriages with their cousins or anybody else. They have to obey the laws on this country, and if they prize those traditions so much that they simply must be allowed to continue them, then they need to move back to wherever they came from.

There's lots more: Many, many countries and cultures not only allow, but have government-sponsored events that are wantonly cruel to animals, like bullfighting, dog fighting, and rooster fighting. Those practices are banned here, and when someone gets caught, the fact that it was a cherished tradition in whatever barbaric country they come from is not considered an excuse for their cruelty to animals.

What would you think if the person who served your food at McDonald's was a Hindu and refused to sell you a hamburger because his religion considers cows to be sacred? Even if he did ask another counter person to come sell you that Big Mac, wouldn't you feel a bit publicly shamed by his telling you that you were some kind of monster for ordering an animal he finds sacred? Please explain to me how that is one tiny bit different from the pharmacist who refuses to prescribe Plan B or other contraception option?

Posted 30 April 2013, 3:19 p.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

Do you seriously believe the Constitution confers upon you the right not to be disliked or disapproved of? Turn that around: Do you believe you have the right to dislike or disapprove of other people? Do you disapprove of homophobes? Are you sure that's OK? Are you sure it's not illegal? If you own a business, do you have a right to deny services to, say people who have swastika tatoos on their foreheads or put NRA bumper-stickers on their cars?

Where did people get this idea that businesses are the same as government agencies? Businesses are started and owned by individuals, and those individuals don't give up the right to have opinions and beliefs just because they open a business. People are have a right to become barbers, florists, masseurs, nail artists, singers, landscapers, etc., without giving up their right to decide for whom to work. Just like you have a right not to go to work for a Catholic hospital, or a Nazi grocer, or a homophobic nail artist if you don't want to. Or do you also think people should be forbidden to boycott businesses they don't like?

Posted 30 April 2013, 9:43 p.m. Suggest removal

namvet60 says...

Great post!

Posted 1 May 2013, 6:12 a.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

I imagine the franchise agreement with McDonalds requires that a franchisee sell all their standard menu, including beef. But if it doesn't and a Hindu wants to cut beef from the menu, that's his or her right, even if it annoys/publicly shames you to be thought of as a monster for wanting beef. Why would you care, anyway? Is your ego so fragile that anyone who doesn't like you should be banned from business ownership?

Posted 30 April 2013, 9:48 p.m. Suggest removal

loplover says...

Actually, no a franchisee is not allowed to change the menu at McDonalds, but that has to do with his contract with them, not the law. He is perfectly free to open his own restaurant and not sell beef, which is another thing altogether. He wouldn't under the law, be allowed to refuse to someone because they ate beef in their general lives. The law goes two ways.

Posted 3 May 2013, 1:07 p.m. Suggest removal

chicoli says...

I'm a liberal who has voted for Mike Hewitt many times. He is a nice person with whom I now disagree; strongly enough I will not vote for him in the future. He does not represent the modern reality of the Country nor the reality of Walla Walla of today and its future.

Posted 30 April 2013, 4:36 p.m. Suggest removal

Myinput says...

I applaud Mike for not just giving a PC answer. Good for him.

Posted 6 May 2013, 12:59 p.m. Suggest removal

mcbscott says...

sounds like a lot of jumping to conclusions without a complete picture of exactly what happened. How many times does misinformation get printed and repeated and the truth get missed? Sensationalism and agendas seem to rule the day.

Posted 30 April 2013, 8:33 p.m. Suggest removal

ImJustSayin says...

The U-B is desperate for stories these days. This and grease in a yard does not make for front page news.

Posted 1 May 2013, 6:54 a.m. Suggest removal

MyFamNews says...

When a staffer's thoughtless comment to one of Mike Hewitt's constituents, causes substantial damage to the community, it is something that we should all be concerned about. It is, however, extremely irritating that in our age of information this one stupid comment could cause so much embarrassment for all of us. There is a headline on a Seattle newsletter page that reads "Onions not the only stink in Walla Walla" That is why it should be front page news here at home.

Posted 1 May 2013, 7:51 a.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

Screeching and howling by professional offense-takers doesn't necessarily translate to "substantial damage to the community."

I'm reminded of the huge controversy that broke out when the CEO of Whole Foods denounced Obama's health care proposals. You'd think every vegan and vegetarian and organophile in the world was threatening to boycott Whole Foods if not string up its CEO by various parts, while investment managers solemnly opined it was a potential death knell to the company to alienate its core market.

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. That doesn't mean they'll voluntarily sacrifice their own convenience or pleasure.

Posted 1 May 2013, 11:01 a.m. Suggest removal

ImJustSayin says...

Of course it's in the Seattle paper. They also own the U-B. I seriously doubt Sheila Hagar gives a rats ace about this story, but is being directed by the owners to report on it.

Posted 2 May 2013, 6:38 a.m. Suggest removal

loplover says...

When it makes it to national media, and even though nobody in this town but me probably reads HuffPo, since it's "liberal", it still is considered national media, the local media (U-B) has an obligation to respond. IMO, anyway.

Posted 3 May 2013, 2:15 p.m. Suggest removal

loplover says...

There are a couple of questions about the original story that I wish I'd had answers to. Did the florist tell them that she wouldn't do their wedding because they were gay or did she refuse to do it and they assumed it was because it was a same-sex wedding? One thing I'm unclear about the law about is this: Does a business have the option of refusing service to someone without giving a reason? Obviously if they state that it's because they are gay they're going to be afoul of the law, but I still don't know about if they just say no and either give an excuse or give no reason at all. I'd like to know that.

Posted 3 May 2013, 2:12 p.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

The florist could have lied and said she was overbooked for that week. I'm guessing her religious views would not support that. Or she could have said, "Thanks for thinking of me, but for personal reasons I won't be able to help you that week." If pressed for the reason, she could have said, "As I said, the reason is personal, and I ask that you respect my desire to keep my personal life private." As long as she didn't disclose the true reason to anyone, a lawsuit would have been very difficult to sustain, since the burden of proving discrimination does still rest on the accuser. Of course, if she did the same thing repeatedly and only with gay customers, she might establish a pattern that would be hard to overcome.

Notice what this accomplishes for our society: People of disfavored viewpoints are forced to keep their views strictly private for fear of harm to their livelihoods. Hypocrisy will be increased, 'white lies' will be encouraged, and people generally will become more reserved around each other, since no one will know what others really think of him or her.

Ahhh, for the lost days of civility and discretion!!

Posted 3 May 2013, 2:52 p.m. Suggest removal

harris says...

It is good to have a law like the bill that Sen. Hewitt sponsored. Private businesses should have the freedom to exercise their religious beliefs in the way they operate their private businesses. A private buisness owner should have the freedom to choose who they work for and who they don't work for just like customers have the freedom to choose what business they spend money at. Thanks to Sen Mike Hewitt for sponsoring a bill that insures that freedom.

Posted 1 May 2013, 9:28 p.m. Suggest removal

wallyworldguy says...

Exactly!

Posted 5 May 2013, 8:42 a.m. Suggest removal

namvet60 says...

Why would anyone be surprised at Sen Hewitt putting his name to this bill? He is a traditional guy (his words) and a conservative. Don't see a problem with that.

Posted 2 May 2013, 6:26 a.m. Suggest removal

wallyworldguy says...

Michael Mettler, creative director of Achieva Marketing, called Hewitt’s co-sponsorship of SB 5927 and “the public relations disaster spewing out of your office” an “embarrassment for all of us who live in Walla Walla

Not for all, Michael, Please don't try to speak for me. No business owner should be forced to do business in a way that gos against their beliefs or upbringing.

Just like I told Annie when all this gay marriage stuff came up. You can not legislate acceptance, and you can not force someone to go against their religious beliefs.

Posted 5 May 2013, 8:55 a.m. Suggest removal

Myinput says...

AMEN TO THIS WALLYWORLDGUY.

Posted 6 May 2013, 1 p.m. Suggest removal

wallyworldguy says...

"Gay swipe ignites local fury"
Also, Sheila, way to sensationalize a story that is not even a story. Things must be slow for the UB.

Posted 5 May 2013, 9:01 a.m. Suggest removal

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