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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Lt. Gov. Candidate Calls Citizenship Questions About Opponent 'Silly Stuff'

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TVW
File photo. Candidates for Washington lieutenant governor, Democrat Cyrus Habib, center, and Republican Marty McClendon, right, speak with host Austin Jenkins on the set of TVW's ''Inside Olympia'' program.

It’s not just President Obama who’s had his citizenship questioned. So has Washington’s Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Cyrus Habib. It happened at a pro-gun rally last weekend and Democrats posted the video to YouTube.

The video shows Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Marty McClendon, addressing the pro-gun rally on the steps of the Capitol. He touted his A-grade from the National Rifle Association and then noted Habib got an F-rating.

As the crowd reacts, someone in the audience is heard asking, “Is he legal?”

McClendon responded, “I know, right.”

A few seconds later someone else asked “what about his birth certificate?” To which McClendon said, “Right, I don’t know. We’re all in this together.”

McClendon then continued on with his speech.

Habib was born in Baltimore in 1981. His parents are naturalized U.S. citizens from Iran. Reached Friday on his way to a series of campaign events in eastern Washington, McClendon said he has no questions about Habib’s citizenship.

“Absolutely not,” McClendon said. “I have no concerns about that whatsoever.”

Asked why he didn’t correct the record in the moment, McClendon answered: “Most of the time I just shrug that kind of stuff off, you hear silly stuff you’re like ‘ok whatever’ and you kind of move on and try not to give any credence to it.”

McClendon, who’s white, noted that he’s married to a Filipino-American woman and together they have three children.

“[I’ve] seen where they’re treated differently at different times and my wife has dealt with it her entire life,” McClendon said. “I’m very concerned and obviously an advocate for everybody is treated fairly.”

McClendon added he recently got an email from someone who said they were planning to contribute to his campaign until they saw he had “married outside of his race.” He said he also wasn’t going to dignify that with a response.

For his part, Habib, who’s currently a state senator, said there can be a stigma that comes with being Iranian-American. But he said this is the first time as a candidate that his citizenship has been questioned.

“It doesn’t surprise me that it could happen,” Habib said. “It does surprise me [McClendon] didn’t set the record straight.”

He went on to note that one of the lieutenant governor’s roles is to preside over the state Senate and referee the debate.

“The fact that my opponent was unable or unwilling to ensure civility at that gun rally is very problematic,” Habib said.

Habib, who is also blind, said this is not what he wants to be talking about as he campaigns for lieutenant governor. But he added, “I’m glad that we are recognizing that birtherism can be something other than an Obama-centric phenomenon, but can be an insidious form of political hate speech than can be directed at public figures anywhere in our country.”