Justin Hwang, the Republican candidate for Oregon House District 49, objected to phrasing used in a mailer sent by Democratic incumbent Chris Gorsek.
A campaign flier sent on Wednesday, Oct. 24, to households in the district states, "Chris Gorsek understands our priorities because he is one of us."
Hwang released a statement on Thursday, Oct. 25, questioning the phrase "one of us."
"As a Korean-American who legally immigrated to this country nearly 25 years ago, I have heard the phrase 'one of us' used many times," he said. "I know what it means."
The term is used to make foreigners feel like outsiders, Hwang told the Outlook in a phone interview.
"That's a term I heard a lot going through my teenage life as an immigrant," he said. "We were offended by people telling us we are not one of them."
Gorsek responded the phrase was referring to all residents in East Multnomah County, and was not meant to offend anyone.
"My opponent thinks it was somehow meant to be a racist statement," Gorsek said. "That is completely not true."
The Democratic Party of Oregon paid for the mailer. Gorsek and campaign staff members reviewed the statement before it was sent.
"We looked it over, and it looked fine. There was never any intent to indicate any sort of racist attack on my opponent," Gorsek said. "I certainly apologize if anyone, including Justin, took it that way. The intention of that line was basically to point out my long record of service to East County, and certainly not to offend people."
Gorsek has taught criminal justice and geology at Mt. Hood Community College for 21 years.
Hwang, who started his Joy Terayaki restaurant chain in Gresham in 2006, is a member of the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Mt. Hood Community College Foundation.
He said his campaign members also were upset by the phrasing used in the mailer, adding his staff is diverse.
"And as soon as they got the fliers they were like 'what the hell.'"