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.