2018's Least Inspiring Moments in State and Local Politics: Insults, Threats and Bad Tweets

Most of them led to a resignation or election loss.

Kevin Parker New York Senate
Democratic New York state Sen. Kevin Parker apologized for using Twitter to tell a Republican staffer to kill herself. But that was only one of several embrassing moments for state and local politicians this year.
(Photo illustration; image AP/Hans Pennink)
There were inspiring moments in politics in 2018, but then there were others that made you just shake your head. With thousands of people seeking public office this year and millions serving in government, it was inevitable that some would behave badly or have wrongdoings from their past exposed. 

As the year draws to a close, here are some of the biggest screwups and insults that made headlines in state and local politics. Some of them are racist, some are sexist, and some of them are just plain weird. And then there's a Hitler comparison.


In Light of #MeToo

The #MeToo movement over the past year has meant that sexual harassment and abuse were taken more seriously than had often been the case in the past.

"2018, folks, the year we read this in a government report: 'At issue is the context in which Senator Anderson used the term 'bitch slap,'" tweeted Laurel Rosenhall, a reporter for CALmatters.

California GOP state Sen. Joel Anderson insisted to investigators that, while he had told a lobbyist he wanted to "bitch slap" her, he hadn't meant it in a threatening way. He said he used the term to suggest he wanted to shock her. California Senate investigators didn't buy it, determining that he had, in fact threatened her.

Anderson, who was term-limited, lost his race for the state Board of Equalization.

In Kansas, a Democratic nominee for the state House tried to make the case that undergoing therapy for emotionally abusing women had actually made him a better candidate for public office. Chris Haulmark lost his party's support after three women accused him of emotional abuse, including one woman who alleged he had once threatened to burn down a tent in which her daughter was sleeping, while her other children watched. Haulmark admitted making mistakes and noted that he had entered therapy to improve his relationships.

"Some might say that would disqualify me from running from office," he wrote on a social media post. "I say it makes me a better representative to those in my district."

Voters didn't buy it. Haulmark lost, badly, in November.

Michael Kalny, an elected Republican precinct committeeman in Kansas, called Democratic congressional candidate Sharice Davids a "radical socialist kick boxing lesbian Indian" who should "be sent packing to the reservation" in a Facebook message he sent in October to the president of a Democratic county women's group.

Kalny resigned his position in the face of public blowback. Davids became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.


Racist Comments

Michael Saudino, the sheriff of Bergen County, N.J., resigned in September, after New York public radio station WNYC obtained a recording of him disparaging state officials and making racist remarks. Taped speaking with colleagues in January, Saudino complained about the potential for criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization.

"Christ almighty," Saudino said, "in other words, let the blacks come in, do whatever the [expletive] they want, smoke their marijuana."

Saudino complained that New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the first Sikh in the country to hold that office, had been appointed because of "the turban." He also inquired about Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, "Is she gay? Because she's never been married."

Geye Hamby, the superintendent of schools in Buford, Ga., resigned in August, after recordings emerged in which he repeatedly referred to "deadbeat [N-word]s."

"[Expletive] that [N-word]," he said. "I'll kill these [expletive] -- shoot that [expletive]."

Michigan Democratic state Rep. Bettie Cook Scott lost a state Senate race against her House colleague Stephanie Chang. During the August primary, Scott approached voters and told them not to vote for "the ching-chong" or the "ching-chang." She also called a Chang volunteer an "immigrant" and said "you don't belong here" and "I want you out of my country."

Scott lost the race to Chang.


Social Media Screwups

Some politicians failed to follow what might be the most important rule about social media posts: When in doubt, don't.

The week before Christmas, for example, New York Democratic state Sen. Kevin Parker apologized for tweeting "kill yourself" to a Republican staffer.

Blake Fischer, Idaho's fish and game commissioner, resigned in October after sharing photos from an African hunting trip, including one that showed him smiling next to dead baboons.


IRL Screwups

Some politicians didn't need social media posts or secret recordings to trip them up. They just opened their mouths.

Corey Stewart, the chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and the GOP nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, held an impromptu news conference outside the state capitol in February. He called Republican state House members liars, cowards, "pathetic" and "useless" for supporting a Medicaid expansion. He also called them "flimsy" and "weak."

To illustrate his point, Stewart held up rolls of toilet paper. He complained that legislators were "flaccid." Asked to explain what he meant by that, Stewart said, "I'm suggesting I feel sorry for their wives."

Stewart lost his Senate campaign.

In November, Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit apologized after saying on the Illinois House floor that she wanted to pump "broth of Legionella" bacteria into the family water supply of GOP Rep. Peter Breen. 


When Things Actually Get Dangerous

Verbal attacks can be disturbing, but some incidents were more serious.

In November, Greg Snowden, the GOP speaker pro tem of the Mississippi House, received a suspended sentence for a drunk driving charge. In September, Snowden had refused to take a DUI test, insisting that he wasn't inebriated when he rear-ended another car. (He claimed that he was engrossed on his phone keeping up with Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination hearings.) 

He said he had not drunk alcohol that day "other than at lunch." He couldn't walk properly during a field sobriety test, he told the Clarion Ledger, because he has bad knees. 

By the time of his sentencing, Snowden promised not to repeat his mistakes. Like Haulmark, the Kansas House candidate, Snowden suggested the experience would improve his job performance.

"I've had to learn some heard lessons," he said, "but I'm going to use those lessons to be a better person and a better public servant."


The Wildest City Council Fight of the Year

Perhaps the year's most bizarre accusations occurred in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

During a September budget hearing, Mayor Keith London lobbed a crude and seemingly non-sequitur comment accusing fellow commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub of making money from sphincter-bleaching.

"Was it getting my sphincter bleached, is that what I earned my income for?" London said to her. "No, that would be you." (It's still not clear what London was referring to. Lima-Taub's mother owns a spa that sells skin-bleaching cream, but Lima-Taub does not work there.) The mayor also remarked that "sphincter-bleaching is a very up-and-coming business." 

Lima-Taub called it a "me too" moment.

Then, a month later, she took her own shots at London, calling him "the biggest, most corrupt criminal to ever grace the city." She said he'd introduced a "joke" of a domestic violence proclamation to deflect attention from his denigrating remark to her.

"A man who sat here a month ago and dared to talk about my private parts, sponsoring a proclamation for domestic violence. Wow," she said. "That's like Hitler having a proclamation for Jews. Or Fidel Castro having freedom day for Cubans."

London said he was offended, but that he felt worse for Holocaust survivors in the community.

Alan Greenblatt is a Governing senior staff writer. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.