The Republican challenger for House District 49 in east Multnomah County says the Democratic incumbent is using coded anti-immigrant language to hold onto his seat.

A mailer sent out in support of state Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale)'s reelection bid describes Gorsek as "one of us"—a term Republican Justin Hwang sees as racially coded.

"Chris Gorsek understands," the mailer says, "because he is one of us."

Gorsek is white. Hwang is a Korean-American immigrant.

Gorsek’s mailer.
Gorsek’s mailer.

In a statement Thursday, Hwang says he's "saddened" by the mailer. "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," Hwang says. "I know what it means."

In response to questions from WW, Democratic Party of Oregon spokeswoman Molly Woon apologized.

"This language in the mail piece was not meant as a reference to anything other than Representative Gorsek's deep community ties and service to his district, and and was not intended to cause offense," she says. "We sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding."

Gorsek is a Mount Hood Community College instructor seeking a fourth term in Salem. Hwang is a political newcomer who owns 22 teriyaki restaurants in the Portland metro area.

District 49 includes Fairview, Troutdale and portions Gresham and East Portland.