Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke’s comments at Wednesday’s Kitsap County Boy Scout breakfast are still resonating, but not because of its pro-scouting message or the ability to raise extra funds for the cause.
Instead, Locke’s controversial comments about the current political situation and his contention that the government tramples on citizens’ rights left many attendees feeling the speech’s content was unsuited to the occasion.
A spokesperson for the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which sponsored the fundraising event in Silverdale, reported the organization had received a number of complaints about Locke’s comments, most of them questioning whether a Boy Scout fundraiser was the proper venue for a hostile political address.
“If you are a politician and you are at a podium in front of 300 or 400 people, you will take the opportunity to say whatever you want to say,” said former Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent, who attended the event. “I felt his political remarks were inappropriate. When you have a keynote speaker who has a specific purpose and he wavers from that purpose, it is disappointing — especially when he was there to help scouting.”
While Locke acknowledged the battle against terrorism is a serious one, he asserted the government’s reaction resulted in “a wholesale violation of our civil liberties.”
After a scouting awards ceremony, Locke began his speech in the typical manner, outlining the importance of his own scouting experience. But he then took what one attendee called “a sharp turn” in his remarks.
The room grew quiet, and when the speech became more political, after some stunned looks, several attendees began walking out in quiet protest.
Two of those who left were Karl Duff of Port Orchard and Jack Hamilton of Silverdale.
“After the first part of his talk, he drifted into an ethnically oriented, racially oriented harangue,” Duff said. “He said what a guilty nation we are and how badly we treated the Japanese. It was a deepening guilt trip and he was dragging it out. People were wondering whether they were really at the Boy Scout breakfast or somewhere else.
“There was a guy next to me who almost jumped up and told him to stop,” Duff said, “but the social pressure of the crowd stopped him.”
“We left when he started comparing the current political situation to a concentration camp,” Hamilton said. “I concluded that Gary Locke isn’t as smart as he once was, or he just didn’t understand the crowd he was addressing.”
The breakfast raised a little less than $50,000, a number compatible with last year’s total. But one scouting official worried that controversy on this level could harm fundraising.
Even so, the negative reaction to Locke’s speech was not unanimous. Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge said it was “inspirational and heartfelt. I think the organizers considered it to be a success.”
For his part, Locke was unaware of any controversy his address may have caused, saying that several people approached him after the speech and congratulated him.
He said the basis of his criticism “didn’t contain anything that many Republicans haven’t already said.”
Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, declined to comment about the content of the speech, saying he favored “adopting the scout’s traits of patience, tolerance and understanding.”