Although the Aug. 3 primary election is nearly six months away, the race is on for endorsements and cash by Olympia City Council candidates seeking to move on to the November general election.
Five seats are open this year, rather than the usual four because recently-appointed Councilmember Yen Huynh will have to run for election if she wishes to retain the seat. She has filed paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission indicating her plans to run. Incumbents Lisa Parshley and Jim Cooper also have filed, and Clark Gilman is expected to do so as well.
One-term council member Renata Rollins is not running again. In announcing her decision, she said in part: “I found myself at odds with certain interests when my proposals, statements, and tactics directly confronted our obscene “normal,” which protects wealth and property above the lives of everyday people. I often felt stymied by bureaucratic norms, and my relationships with most council members were tenuous at best. I’ve made my share of miscalculations, and I didn’t get to see everything to fruition I would have liked… At the same time, history shows transformative change is never comfortable or easy.”
Huynh, who has been on the council since mid-January, already has drawn an opponent, Robbi Kesler, who was among the finalists for the council seat. Kesler is an attorney who has worked for the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation and the state Legislature.
Another of the council finalists, Dontae Payne, is running for Rollins’ seat. He is the deputy district director to U.S. Rep. Marilyn Strickland. Previously, he worked as the South Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula Regional Representative to Gov. Jay Inslee.
This campaign season is shaping up to be an expensive one, much like that of 2017, in which contributions totaled more than $150,000 for four council races whose results were not even close.
Kesler already has donated $2,000 to her campaign, and Parshley has chipped in $5,000 of her own money to get hers underway. Cooper recently used a social media post to ask for $30,000 to get his re-election bid going, even though county records show he won with more than 78 percent of the vote in 2017 and state records indicate he raised and spent no money for that campaign.
“In order to reach the voters necessary to win, during a pandemic, we will have to reinvent how it’s done,” Cooper said. And he is right. “Door-belling,” or in-person contacts at residents’ homes, and in-person fundraisers, have been the backbone of local campaigns for years. The pandemic has forced candidates to rethink how to get their messages to voters; the recent campaigns for Thurston County Commission relied almost exclusively on social media posts, virtual fundraisers, and “lit-drops” in which information on candidates is left at residents’ doorsteps.
The 2021 races also are drawing at least one candidate who is deeply unhappy with the council. “It is readily apparent the current Council has failed to keep Olympia safe and family-friendly,” writes Candy Mercer, who declared on Feb. 6 she intends to run for the council, although she did not say which seat.
It’s been apparent that individuals associated with organizations such as ‘Olympia Looks Like Shit,’ ‘Olympia News Network’ and ‘Olympia Photography’ would likely run for office. These groups conduct most of their business through social media posts and focus on vilifying homeless people and denigrating attempts by the city and nonprofits to support homeless individuals and find solutions that would house their growing numbers.
Mercer posted her intent on social media and in an interview taped at an event at the state Capitol Sunday whose attendees were mostly former President Donald Trump supporters. To comply with state law, she has 14 days from the announcement to file paperwork with the state PDC, which tracks campaign donations and expenditures and makes them available to the public.
Her campaign, “Gynarchy Now! Coalition to Flip the Olympia City Council in 2021,” first met in mid-January. She alluded to a slate of candidates she believes will follow her onto the primary ballot in a statement.
Mercer says Gynarchy (defined as rule by women or a woman) Now! is just the working title for her campaign. “I am channeling my Riot Girl level anger into something prosocial. I believe that there are a lot of Riot Women out there who are feeling the same. My battle song is from Nirvana. Can you guess which one?” She says she is keeping a more mainstream branding idea for the actual campaign secret, for strategic reasons, but she may have given a hint in a lengthy social media post:
“I think middle-aged women could be a key to victory. We have spine, are pragmatic, know how to get things done, and can manage a budget. We know how to parent have the fortitude to say no, this is not acceptable behavior. We have compassion but we also know that good boundaries are an important part of compassion. We are strong enough to stand up to bullies.”