The head of Washington state’s Republican party demanded Friday that an Iranian-American candidate denounce statements allegedly made by the president of an Iranian-American nonprofit, as well as return $8,000 from donors tied to the group.
Cyrus Habib, a Democratic state senator running for lieutenant governor, called the demands from GOP leader Susan Hutchison “race baiting.” He accused her of trying to make the election about his background while unfairly trying to tie him to overseas terrorism.
“This is not the first time that this type of language and insinuation has been used or that my being of Middle Eastern heritage has been raised,” Habib said, referring to recent comments made by attendees at a gun-rights rally questioning his citizenship.
On Friday, Hutchison criticized Habib for receiving a combined $9,000 in donations from a board member of the American Iranian Council, Pirooz Parvarandeh, and his wife, Violet. Hutchison called the council an “extremist group.”
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Habib already has returned about $1,000 of the couple’s money that exceeded state contribution limits.
But Hutchison said Habib should return the remainder of the donations because of comments by the president of the American Iranian Council, Hooshang Amirahmadi, who didn’t donate to Habib’s campaign.
Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers University, appeared in a 2009 New York Post article making comments such as, “Iran has not been involved in any terrorist organization” and “neither Hezbollah nor Hamas are terrorist organizations.”
“It is offensive and unacceptable for Habib to take money from leaders of an organization led by a pro-Iran extremist,” Hutchison said in a press release Friday.
Reached by phone Friday, Amirahmadi said he never made the comments in the Post article.
He suggested that someone might have taken a statement out of context when he was trying to explain the perspective of the Iranian government, which he said disagrees with the United States’ view that Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist groups.
Amirahmadi called the statement Hutchison attributed to him “complete nonsense.”
“I do believe Iran is a sponsor of terrorism,” he said. “Of course, they are supporting Hezbollah and supporting terrorist organizations.”
Hutchison persisted Friday in saying Habib should return the donations from Parvarandeh and his wife, and “condemn the extremist statements made by the AIC President.”
The couple’s donations make up about 1 percent of the $830,000 in contributions Habib has received so far in his campaign for lieutenant governor, according to state campaign finance records.
Habib, who in 2012 became the first Iranian-American elected to a Legislature in the United States, said Hutchison was engaging in an unfair game of “guilt by association.”
“They want to make this a race about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and that has nothing to do with the race for lieutenant governor,” Habib said Friday, adding that he’s never met Amirahmadi or spoken to him.
Habib is running against Republican Marty McClendon, a real estate agent, pastor and conservative talk show host from Gig Harbor.
The lieutenant governor is responsible for presiding over the state Senate, as well as filling in for the governor when he or she is out of state.