South Sound political flyer decried as ‘racist’

Critics say there are racist overtones in a flyer sent to South Sound voters. The allegations are that a candidate's face was deliberately darkened.

State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, is taking some heat tonight. A flyer showing up in South Sound mailboxes appears to darken the face of his Democratic opponent, who is African American. This flyer is not directly from O’Ban. It is actually from the Political Action Committee. But that PAC has ties to Senate Republicans.

The signs are all there. This is Steve O'Ban's country.

After all, the Republican has represented the 28th legislative district for more than seven years.

But his opponent this year is T'wina Nobles, president of the Tacoma Urban League.

Over the last few days, a flyer was sent to voters in this district. It was also sent to Evelyn Fielding Lopez, a former executive director of the state's Public Disclosure Commission.

She says the text is standard political fare.

"What's different in this one is that the candidate that mailer supports, Steve O'Ban, looks like a very light-skinned man in this picture," said Lopez. "But what was really dramatically noticeable was the T'wina Nobles picture. Her features are particularly dark, both around her eyes and her cheekbones."

It is easy to see the difference between Nobles' official campaign photo and the one in the O'Ban flyer.

"It's a form of political dog -whistling that we have seen for a long time," said Crystal Fincher, a political consultant who works with Democrats.

Fincher said darkening the face of a political opponent who is black is as American as apple pie.

"There's a lot of data that shows that when candidates are portrayed as darker, particularly Republican voters view them more negatively," said Fincher. "And this looks like an attempt to appeal to that."

Lopez's research traced the flyer's PAC to the Senate Republican caucus, as well as its funders.

"I think it's disgraceful, and I think it's shameful," said Lopez. "And I think businesses that put their money into that need to do some deep thinking."

One of those funders listed on the flyer is the Washington State Realtors, which sent a statement disavowing the flyer.

O'Ban is disavowing it, too.

But it is important to note that this is perfectly legal.

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