Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cheryl Haskins Tries Again

Note: for background on the Renton City Council vacant seat appointment, please see Councilman Randy Corman's blog.
I somehow made it through the selection process for the new city councilmember without making any public statements about Cheryl Haskins' bid for the appointment. My tongue now has some serious bite marks on it.
It was clear from the beginning that the selection process wasn't going to entail much in the way of public input, including the ability to question the candidates about their affiliations and political leanings. Given all the drama of last November's election, that's understandable, and I respect the decision to keep the process non-confrontational and friendly. But all the platitudes and lack of hard-nosed questioning made me a bit weary at times. It's not that I was worried that Cheryl Haskins or her mentor, Ruth Gibbs, were actually going to be appointed. Rather, it was that the interview process provided Cheryl with a free platform from which she could make a case for her future candidacy for city council, without having to face any questions about her controversial political activism. I suppose I could have made a stink about her applying for the seat, but I'm pretty certain I would've been painted as an acrimonious rabble rouser if I'd done so. So, I didn't rock the boat this time, and it's just as well.
Fortunately, Cheryl once again sowed the seeds of her defeat by making a serious political (not to mention social) misjudgment. This time, she tried to influence the council's vote by urging her supporters to call the councilmembers at home and at work. That included calling a councilmember who is currently grappling with family health issues. Classy. According to my sources (I love saying that), Cheryl sent an email to her supporters, providing them with "talking points" outlining her virtues, as well as a list of all the councilmembers' phone numbers. She then asked people to forward the email on to others. Can you imagine how irritating it would be to get phone call after phone call from right-wing zealots reading from a script? Not exactly a good way to build support with elected officials who already view your politics and supporters with extreme suspicion.

[Update: Apparently, so many calls from Cheryl's supporters came into the city council switchboard this past Monday that the receptionist had to stop answering the phone. Normal business calls went to voicemail. City officials were not pleased.]

The one thing that really stands out to me is that Cheryl must be utterly unaware of how severely damaged her reputation is in Renton. She must believe that receiving 41% of the vote in the last election means that 41% of the city's voters personally supported her campaign -- and her politics. If so, she's failing to take into account that most of her support was likely the result of her unprecedented campaign spending (funded by outsiders), which allowed her to achieve incredible name recognition within just a few short months. Giant billboards buy votes.
In all likelihood, Cheryl will continue her quest to secure a council seat in future elections. Every time, she will try to avoid scrutiny of her anti-gay, right-wing political activities, instead presenting herself as a mainstream candidate with uncontroversial affiliations. She's quite good at marketing herself in that manner. But she can't erase her past, especially when she refuses to even acknowledge the divisions her work has fostered. Not apologize for, just acknowledge. Until Cheryl Haskins demonstrates that she has the capacity to serve all of Renton's residents equally -- including the LGBT community -- she will face insurmountable opposition from me and the political majority here in town, with which I am now closely aligned.

Kevin Poole

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Goodbye... for now

From this morning's Renton Reporter:

[Cheryl] Haskins... waged a well-funded campaign against Parker. She said she's not done with politics. "It would have been the beginning, whether I win or lose," she said.
Now, she says, she plans on getting involved in local Renton organizations.

Until we meet again...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Issue of Faith

Note: by posting this entry, my intention is not to sensationalize Cheryl's Haskins' defeat or rehash previously-discussed topics. I simply feel that this particular issue needs a bit more illumination.

In both the Seattle Times and on her campaign website at one point, Cheryl Haskins indicated that she believed my opposition to her candidacy constituted a personal attack on her faith. That belief genuinely troubles me, for a number of reasons. I have close relationships with people of many different faiths in my life, from Orthodox Judaism, to Evangelical Christianity, to mainstream Islam, and they and I know that I would never impugn anyone's personal religious or spiritual beliefs, even if I strongly disagreed with them. I believe that personal faith (or lack thereof) is something that each person needs to discover on their own, and I know that faith plays an important and positive role in billions of people's lives worldwide. In fact, several current and newly-elected Renton City Council members – all of whom I've now met – have very strong spiritual beliefs, and they've been very open about their affiliations with religious institutions and organizations. I can tell you that I've been blown away by the intelligence and integrity of these council members.

In believing that my opposition to her candidacy is attack on her faith, Cheryl Haskins has indicated that she's unwilling or unable to examine the true nature of my criticisms. Essentially, she's taking the easy way out by playing the victim. I could have done the same by labeling her a "homophobe" or saying she "hates" gay people, but I chose not to use such inflammatory terms to get my message across. I'm fairly certain that Cheryl's opposition to gay rights is far more complex than just an intrinsic fear or loathing of gay people, and I've never suggested otherwise. I've also never questioned her right to personally oppose gay marriage or domestic partnership legislation, because I understand that she has strong personal beliefs that that run counter to those concepts. What I have questioned is her religiously-inspired organization's public opposition to and politicization of gay rights issues.

There are some, including Dean Radford, the editor of the Renton Reporter, who apparently believe that discussing a candidate's faith or religious affiliation has no place in a campaign for local office. In situations where a candidate has made no mention of his or her personal beliefs, I'd agree with that statement. If, however, a candidate has publicly promoted his or her church membership or personal religious beliefs, I think it's entirely appropriate to ask what role those beliefs might play in public policy decisions. Most candidates wouldn't find such a question offensive, and would realize that it's simply a part of running for office in our multi-cultural, multi-religious society.

In Cheryl Haskins' case, though, the questions people asked of her were not focused on her personal faith, but on her public political activism against gay rights, which has clearly been influenced by her faith and her affiliation with a very conservative church, where her husband happens to be a pastor. The fact that a great deal of her campaign funding came from members of her church – people who don't even live in Renton – was also a concern for me and others, as it suggested a coordinated effort by outsiders to get a candidate with a specific ideology elected to our City Council. Many people remain skeptical that Cheryl's candidacy was masterminded by the Religious Right, and I really have no proof that it truly was. However, based on well-documented efforts by groups such as the Christian Coalition to install religious conservatives in local, non-partisan offices, it's quite possible that Cheryl Haskins' candidacy represented more than just one woman's interest in representing her community. That supposition is supported by the involvement of the state Republicans and leaders of her church in her campaign and its financing. I also believe that Cheryl intended to use the City Council as a brief stepping stone on her way towards higher office, without paying her dues in our community. Most politically-savvy observers I've met have echoed that concern.

Given all of this information, Cheryl Haskins is either being naïve or manipulative in claiming that she's being attacked on the basis of her personal faith. If she feels persecuted, I hope she can overcome that initial reaction by reexamining the true nature of the opposition to her candidacy, which I think I've made very clear.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It's finally over

As soon as I stumbled upon Cheryl Haskins' true background just over a month ago, I immediately began writing a personal email to her, letting her know that her anti-gay activism had not escaped my attention. As I wrote the email, I started to feel increasingly disturbed by the prospect of such a divisive individual serving in a leadership position in my community. Despite my complete lack of hands-on experience with political activism, some untapped part of my psyche began to glow, and a stream of ideas and strategies suddenly filled my head. I realized that I had a moral obligation to inform my fellow citizens of her hidden liabilities. I stopped writing the letter to Cheryl, and instead wrote one to the editor of the Renton Reporter. Thus began my unlikely and tumultuous career as Cheryl Haskins' most vocal opponent in her run for City Council.

Four weeks and a wealth of experience later, I'm fairly certain that my efforts did indeed help derail Cheryl Haskins' well-funded plan to get elected. Whether or not she could have actually won is impossible to gauge, but all of the well-seasoned politicos I've met seem to think that my actions turned the tide of public opinion against her, and helped reverse the positive effects of the massive marketing she had done to promote her "new face." That visibility was really the only strength she had going for her, since she had no local record of service to go on, and her campaign message was generically non-controversial.

I'm not comfortable taking credit for her defeat, though. Despite what my detractors have said, this journey has never been about inflating my own ego or making a name for myself. I was most concerned that my criticisms of Cheryl would tarnish King Parker's reputation, but despite the efforts of some to paint me as King's "kingpin," he did a masterful job of staying unconnected to the controversy. If anything, I think my criticisms of Cheryl allowed people to look beyond her superficial message of "fresh ideas" to see that she really wasn't a qualified candidate, particularly when compared to King Parker, whose record of service to our city is unimpeachable.

I respect Cheryl for graciously conceding defeat today, but based on the statement on her website, it's clear that her political ambitions remain strong. As I have said before, I personally feel that she should channel those ambitions into running for a partisan office, like County Council or State Representative. In such case, she would need to run as a Republican, and she would be held accountable for her past political activism in opposition to gay issues, which may not even turn out to be an issue for voters in such a campaign. The worst thing she could do, though, would be to run for the City Council again, or for the School Board, as the new political super-majority in Renton is very much galvanized against her now. In addition, there will likely be some sort of campaign finance rules in place by the time she tries to run for such office again, so she'd have a hard time funding her campaign with outside money. Plus, I'm not going anywhere.

If Cheryl Haskins publicly repudiates her past involvement in divisive anti-gay activities, expresses a genuine desire to uphold our state's current anti-discrimination protections for gay people, and demonstrates those new commitments by building bridges with LGBT groups, then she just might be able to salvage her reputation in our community. If she wants to hold leadership roles in non-partisan, non-religious community organizations and participate in citizen committees in Renton, she will need to show that she can work effectively with people of all backgrounds. I won't be the one to challenge her involvement in such roles, but now that her past activities are widely known, other people certainly will bring them up.

This election should serve to remind all citizens that it's our responsibility as voters to fully research the affiliations and qualifications of candidates for any political office. Someone who suddenly arrives on the scene and bills herself as unencumbered by political baggage and full of new ideas should not be given the benefit of the doubt, especially if she has little history of local community involvement. As evidenced by the fact that a previously unknown individual received 41% of the vote running against a pillar of the community, it's clear that money and a good PR campaign can buy votes when people don't take the time to fully research candidates.

I have learned that one citizen, employing only the truth and $655.75 of his own money, can make a significant impact on public opinion, without compromising his personal ethics or resorting to deceitfulness. While some pretty ugly tactics were used to try to intimidate me, I always had the truth on my side, and in the end, my message was only strengthened by my opposition's machinations. I have also discovered that Renton is indeed the inclusive, tolerant, and welcoming community I'd always believed it to be. That was especially apparent when I arrived at last night's combined Election Night party (for five major candidates) to find many people wearing "Kevin Poole Fan Club" stickers, including big-name community leaders of all backgrounds. Now, that's what I call supportive.

Thank you to everyone who supported me throughout this process with advice, reassurance, and sign-posting physical labor. And thank you to those who respectfully and intelligently challenged my criticisms of Cheryl Haskins. In responding to such challenges, I had the opportunity to fully analyze my own motivations and preconceived notions of people. If there's one thing I learned from this experience, it's that labels – gay, straight, religious, atheist, black, white, old, young, male, female, rich, poor – are absolutely useless when it comes to trying to determine where people stand on a particular issue. That's a lesson I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

Finally, while I'm not ready to trust Cheryl Haskins' political intentions, my heart does go out to her on a very personal level right now. She and her family have been through a lot since she announced her candidacy, and I'm sure things have been especially difficult over the past several weeks, as they've been for me. Whatever issues I have with her public activities, I respect her humanity, and I wish her happiness and personal success. Hopefully, she can achieve that happiness and success without opposing the human rights of any of her fellow citizens.

Thanks for reading.

Kevin Poole


UPDATE: Wed. 10 a.m.: Cheryl Haskins has conceded defeat in a statement posted on her website. In the statement, she indicates that this campaign only marked the beginning of her political career. One can hope that any future political ambitions on her part will involve running for partisan offices as a conservative Republican, rather than for local, non-partisan offices. In any case, I'm happy to see that she has graciously conceded defeat.


As of 1:04 a.m., with 100% of the precincts reporting in and 46% of the total vote counted, King Parker is leading Cheryl Haskins by 59.2% to 40.6%, or 1,188 votes. Statistically, that represents an insurmountable lead at this stage in the game, and it's therefore safe to call King Parker the winner of Renton City Council Position #5. (I feel like CNN, without the dramatic music and fancy graphics.)

Marcie Palmer and Don Persson have retained their seats on the City Council, and Greg Taylor is now the newest council member. In addition, it appears that Denis Law will be the new mayor of Renton, having captured almost 55% of the vote in his race against incumbent Kathy Keolker.

Boy, am I sure glad I aligned myself with the right group of people! And such nice people they've turned out to be.

Congratulations to all the winning candidates! I'll obviously have more information and commentary later today (Wed.).

Monday, November 5, 2007

The final countdown

Just after 8 p.m. Tuesday night, the first results for the Renton City Council election will begin streaming in. The initial results will only reflect votes cast by mail-in (absentee) ballots, rather than votes cast in polling places, which will be released a bit later. Given the developments of the past week related to Cheryl Haskins' campaign, there could be major differences between the two types of votes.

My unscientific, completely opinionated prediction: Cheryl Haskins will garner less than 40% of the vote, perhaps far less. The majority of the votes she does get will be based on people's lack of knowledge about her past, not their support of her conservative activism. Try as I might, I still haven't been able to reach people who don't read the newspaper, don't talk to their neighbors, or haven't seen one of my rapidly-disappearing signs around town. Those are the people that Cheryl's $45,000 spending spree has influenced the most.

Of course, there are those who will vote for Cheryl Haskins because they think she reflects their personal values. This is not Spokane, though, and based on past election and demographic data, I'm pretty certain those folks don't make up a significant number of voters here in Renton. Plus, her opponent, King Parker, isn't exactly a flaming liberal. He's known for fiscal conservatism and community involvement, and has a long and distinguished track record to stand on. He has also managed to stay out of Cheryl Haskins' controversies, which makes him an easy choice for those that may have even the slightest concerns about her candidacy.

As I've said before, one of the secondary goals in my opposition to Cheryl Haskins is to discourage her from ever running for non-partisan office in our community again, and to send a message that outside money and influence will not go unnoticed in future elections here in Renton. This whole ordeal should also serve to remind voters that we cannot rely on campaign lawn signs, mailers, and pamphlets to tell us what candidates really stand for, especially when they don't have local records to stand on. I was almost duped by Cheryl Haskins "new face" advertising blitz, as were many of you.

If you haven't mailed in your absentee ballot, you must do so by tomorrow (Tuesday). You can also drop off your absentee ballot at any polling place. If you'll be voting in-person at a polling place, the polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. To confirm your eligibility to vote and find your polling place, visit the King County Elections Voter Guide Lookup page.

Unless any further developments occur with regard to Cheryl Haskins' candidacy, you probably won't hear from me again until late Tuesday night. Of course, that could change if she suddenly calls the newspapers and accuses me of eating small children.

Best of luck to all the non-polarizing, locally-funded, and community-oriented candidates!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Welcome new readers!

Thanks for visiting! If this is your first time here, I recommend you start with my introductory posting, which provides some background on why I believe Cheryl Haskins is not an appropriate person to serve on the Renton City Council. Let me also take this opportunity to reiterate that I am not affiliated with her opponent in any way, and that my concerns with Cheryl Haskins are solely focused on her divisive public activism in opposition to gay issues, her weak record of public service within the Renton community, and her massive campaign funding, 95% percent of which has come from outside of Renton.

Thanks for visiting.

CALL TO ACTION: Help put up signs

Most of the signs I put up around town have gone missing, but I still have quite a few left -- maybe 100 or so out of the original 250. Please email me at southlakewa@mac.com if you'd be interested in picking up signs to post around town this weekend. Areas of particular focus are the Highlands, downtown, Rainier Ave, Talbot Hill, and North Renton. It'd be best if you have your own staple gun and hammer. Even putting up just five or ten signs would make a difference.

I'm concerned that people with less than honorable intentions might try to take advantage of this situation, so if I don't personally know you, I ask that you provide me with a local reference, preferably someone within the GLBT community, or someone who's been supportive of progressive issues. Sorry for the paranoia, but I apparently need to be concerned about such things now.

A special note to the Haskins campaign: I am not requesting financial contributions from anyone, nor "in kind" contributions, so please don't waste more taxpayer money by filing another PDC complaint against me, OK?

More bad press for Cheryl Haskins

From today's Seattle Times:

Critic of Renton City Council candidate now complies with campaign rules, agency says
By Cara Solomon
Seattle Times South King County reporter

The state Public Disclosure Commission confirmed Friday that a Renton resident who is an outspoken critic of City Council candidate Cheryl Haskins is now in compliance with campaign laws.

Haskins filed a complaint with the commission Wednesday, arguing Kevin Poole should have filed with the PDC as a political committee. A spokeswoman for the commission said Friday that while the political-committee designation didn't fit Poole, he still misunderstood other PDC rules. Once informed, he made the necessary changes.

"I feel like the complaint against me was really intended to intimidate me," Poole said.

Haskins said she wanted only to see Poole comply with the law. She is running against former Councilmember King Parker.

Also Friday, the Renton Police Department said it had dropped an inquiry into a stolen sign backing Haskins. Police determined the large sign had actually been taken by a Haskins supporter.

Haskins also had complained earlier to the police that hundreds of her signs were stolen or defaced by stickers opposing her candidacy. That complaint remains open, police said.

Haskins said she doesn't think Poole took her signs but that she is concerned about the stickers, which she says feature language from his Web site.

Poole said he knew nothing about the stickers.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com


As of 7:30 AM this morning, Cheryl Haskins' website had not been updated to reflect the new information. I encourage readers to respectfully contact her campaign and request that they remove any mention of the bogus PAC complaint to the PDC against me, as well as any mention of the sign stealing, since we know that her own supporter's action is what prompted the campaign to file a police report.

Also, as this latest article indicates, I really do not know what this allegation of "stickers" is all about. Are they talking about my leaflet, which was once available for download in electronic format? Or are they talking about actual stickers, as in, Hello Kitty and scratch & sniff? I have not seen any such stickers, nor do I know anything about them. If someone chose to make them on their own, then that's hilarious! But it's not good if they were used to deface Cheryl's signs. There's no need to try suppress anyone's message – the truth is working just fine.

Finally, can someone please tell the Haskins campaign that my moniker has never been "anonymous citizen?" It was (and is) "Renton Citizen." Sounds like the Haskins campaign needs a fact-checker (and a spell-checker, for that matter).

Friday, November 2, 2007

Nothing to hide!

Cheryl Haskins' complaint against me to the Public Disclosure Commission was what we in the tech industry like to call an attempt to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). She apparently thought I'd be discredited by having to disclose my expenditures on lawn signs and my website, and while I haven't seen the actual complaint yet, I've been told that it accuses me of being massively funded by outside interests... like she is. Sorry, but I've filed the proper form and the PDC considers this "investigation" closed. I think it's pretty ironic that someone who spent $655 of his own money to express his First Amendment rights is forced to deal with accusations of misconduct, while someone who's receiving 95% of her record-setting campaign funding from outside the city has gotten by with virtually no scrutiny, until I exposed the situation (and the Renton Reporter and Seattle Times finally reported on it).

In addition, the malicious attempt to implicate me in the theft and defacement of her signs has really backfired, now that one of Cheryl's supporters is apparently the person who was seen "stealing" a sign (who knows what the real story is, but Cheryl's campaign filed the police report). At some point, I hope to be able to laugh about the whole thing.

Anyway, the point is, I have been exonerated, and Cheryl's candidacy continues to implode.

Here are scans of my PDC paperwork, in case anyone's interested: