By Christian Hill
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Faye Stewart, the East Lane County, Oregon commissioner who is running for the U.S. Senate, has apologized for remarks condemned by some Vietnamese Americans as insensitive and dehumanizing.
Stewart made the remarks at a March 10 forum at George Fox University in Newberg for the candidates seeking to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore).
The candidates were asked their views on how the United States should handle Syrian refugees who are fleeing their war-torn Middle East country.
In a heavily edited and spliced clip posted online, Stewart related the problems encountered in Portland after Vietnamese refugees arrived in the Rose City.
He said the influx “created a huge problem because their culture and their lifestyle didn’t mix with ours,” noting that some refugees “started a fire” in their apartment because they didn’t know how to heat their home, and “when they needed something to eat, they went to their natural ways of doing it by harvesting people’s dogs and cats, their pets.”
The clip — which removed the question and the rest of Stewart’s response and inserted his “their culture and their lifestyle didn’t mix with ours” a second time at the end – appeared on The Daily Caller, a conservative online news and opinion site.
It quickly made the rounds on social media. Last week, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy posted the clip on her Facebook page, with a one-word commentary, “Interesting … ”
On March 31, Piercy posted a link to the online version of this story and noted, “It is my experience that even when we disagree on policy and come to very different conclusions, Faye is a straightforward, fair, and kind person.”
Nhu Le, public relations coordinator at the University of Oregon’s Asian Pacific American Student Union, said Stewart’s comments made it appear as if Vietnamese Americans were inhuman and savage.
“The fact that he’s a representative for Lane County is disgraceful,” she said. “He’s a very public figure and a role model to many in this community, and the fact that he said that is really disheartening.”
Duy Chi Nguyen, president of an organization that oversees Vietnamese student associations at about 10 universities in Oregon and Washington, said he considered the remarks to be racist.
Nguyen, who is an architect in training at a firm in Portland, said his parents fled Vietnam for the United States, settling in San Diego, after the fall of Saigon in 1975. He said both sides of his family are highly educated and served in the South Vietnamese military.
“Sure, there was a lot to get used to and there was a lot to learn about,” he said. “Just to make a claim that we didn’t know anything and we’re going out and hunting dogs and cats, that’s ludicrous. That’s absurd and that’s incredibly insulting.”
Stewart said he used those examples, which he said he had heard from a friend who lived in Portland at the time, to make a broader point that the United States needs to be careful about not creating a worse situation in trying to help people.
Stewart said he “made a mistake” and could have made his point “in a different fashion.”
“It’s just unfortunate that people are using dirty politics and cutting … the question and context out and painting a very small sliver of what I said completely out of context.”
He added, “I’m sick over this, to be completely honest with you because that’s not who I am. … I’m a leader of inclusiveness and helping people. … I’m just sick that somebody — I don’t even know who did it — determined that we need to create this piece and drive a political process based on hate. I think it’s incredibly unfortunate.”
The other Republicans in the race are Mark Callahan, Sam Carpenter, and Dan Laschober. The primary election is May 17.
Kevin Stine, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, said in an email March 31 that he participated in the forum and had it videotaped with permission from the other candidates. Stine said he provided access to the video to all the candidates, but didn’t know “who gave it to the Daily Caller or who chopped it up.”
Decades ago, another Oregon politician also had to explain himself after joking about Vietnamese eating pets.
In 1982, according to a news report at the time, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, then a Multnomah County commissioner, suggested during remarks to a local Rotary club that the county could save money on dog control by relaxing restrictions on food served at Vietnamese restaurants.
Blumenauer said he didn’t mean to offend and noted his record of supporting civil liberties and in dealing with refugees.
“I don’t think I included it to bait or harass [the Vietnamese community],” he said, according to the report.