Elections. Virtue signaling. Identity politics. Do issues even matter anymore?

In this election, in Olympia, there are several candidates challenging incumbents apparently because…well, we don’t really know why other than the challengers believe things ought to be different. 

There is a “slate” of candidates for the city council (Gauny, Weigand, Mercer, and maybe Kesler) who have spent ridiculous amounts of money (for local races) on vacuous mailings, videos, and radio commercials (as well as the advice of Doug Mah) and still, we have yet to hear, see or read what they would do differently than the incumbents. 

One such challenger (Weigand), a realtor who apparently has sold much of Olympia waterfront to wealthy homeowners (based on the appearance of his bombproof signs), seems to believe: 1) yes, one can buy their way onto a city council, 2)  that the thing wrong with this council is that they don’t give ENOUGH away to realtors/developers, and 3) if one says how things stink around here enough, they don’t have to say what they would do differently.

Another member of the “slate” (Gauny) is remarkable for his ability to say absolutely nothing about why he should be elected except that: “Why am I running? I am running because my uncle was beaten up while out walking his dog. He was assaulted and almost killed by the very “homeless” person he was attempting to help.” The quotes around homeless are, I guess because he believes that not having a place to live, inside, is just a state of mind. (From his website. No, really!).

The “slate” is counting on Olympians being so fed up with the way things are that we will put absolutely anyone else in charge.

There is also a challenger, not in the “slate” (Reed), whose primary motivation appears to be her anger at the police department. As understandable as that may be, especially given her personal experience, is that enough to qualify one to represent Olympians? To some, she has displayed little interest in learning about, you know, all the other things the city does. There are some who, even despite her apparent paucity of experience (and/or interest?), are still planning on voting for her. For some, it appears a “POC voice” on the Council trumps everything else. When, if ever, is it right to vote for someone primarily, if not exclusively because of their score on the diversity matrix? Does the record of the incumbent even matter? If this candidate wins, when her future challenger scores even higher on the diversity matrix, does that person automatically deserve to win? Even despite the-then incumbent’s record?  

There is another candidate (Kesler), on the “slate” or not, it’s hard to tell. She is still smarting from the “loss” months ago when the Council picked Yến Huỳnh to serve the unexpired term of newly elected State Rep. Bateman, who says, essentially and simply, that she is Native and more experienced than the (now) incumbent. This, while the incumbent has now held the office for several (not easy) months and the challenger has never held elected office. Again, while clearly intelligent and experienced (even if not in decision making/leadership positions) her materials display no meaningful indication of what she would do differently than her opponent…other than the political cliché: “we need regional solutions”. Gee, I wonder if the Council her has ever considered that?  

In this race, like the one featuring Parshley against Reed, is again that very thorny and delicate issue for Democrats, liberals, and progressives:  it features a Native American woman against a millennial Vietnamese woman. I for one absolutely do believe a Native American woman’s perspective on the Council would be invaluable. I also believe the systemic and historic injustices that the dominant culture has unleashed on our Native forebearers can and does warrant various kinds of reparations, and more Native men and women in non-Indian leadership positions would be good for all of us. This candidate also appears to be smart and capable, albeit void of real solutions for any of the myriad issues facing the City.

We also have school board races this year were, at least one candidate, Mark Boyer, wants to be elected because, well, he thinks he deserves it because he has lived here all his life. Forget that his kids go to private school because that whole mask and vaccine thing was such a pain for his family in those public schools. But again, what we hear from him, other than the dog whistles to a particular constituency, is essentially “can’t we just go back to the ‘50’s again? Me and my peeps were doing just fine back then.”

When considering who I should vote for (read: hire) to represent me though, I go through a process not unlike when a university considers how to (effectively, legally, and impactfully) implement an affirmative action strategy. I, for one, give tremendous weight to increasing diversity (of all kinds) on our elected bodies. It’s important for underrepresented groups but it is also an absolute win for the community, in that a decision-making group that has the benefit of myriad perspectives and experiences produces far better results.

But, again, remarkably I have seen no discussion, or even head fakes to real issues. Of course, there is the ubiquitous reference to “the homelessness problem”, but all we get is “this situation can’t go on”, or the ever-popular dog whistle “we need to restore Olympia values”. 

There are several important issues facing Olympia (and most all cities) and helping to provide shelter for the unhoused has got to be the most complex, challenging, and controversial issue ever faced by local governments. I definitely don’t agree with everything the City has done…or not done, to help house people who need it AND keep our community livable, safe, and clean. But few understand or appreciate the situation local governments are in when they must deal with the downstream results (, being unhoused, encampments, mental health needs, environmental degradation, etc.) of the upstream problems (economic inequality, inadequate mental health funding, living wage job opportunities, etc.).

If you haven’t voted yet, please do, for all our sakes. But first, spend a little time and learn about these candidates. Olympia is not some sort of protected island from the nastiness and craziness happening all around us. Some of these candidates support Florida Man (even after he incited an insurrectionist mob to overturn an American election). Some might not but are still running because they think Olympia has gone to hell and, well, they don’t like it one bit. 

We should hold candidates, who want to represent us and make important decisions about this community which will have impact over decades to come, to at least the standards of a Mcdonald’s employee – what are their qualifications? What issues are they passionate about? What will they do differently than their opponent? Will they let the stranger in and be willing to learn in public?

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By Russ Lehman

19 Comments

  • Russ Lehman seems to not have done any research for this “article” when it comes to Talauna Reed. It would have taken him less than 5 minutes to click on her website to see that of ANY candidate running for Olympia City Council, Ms. Reed is the only candidate who has a fully formed platform. Furthermore, Talauna Reed has exactly the kind of experience this council needs in that she is a social worker who works with the homeless every day, a proven community organizer, the recipient of the YWCA 2020 Womxn of Achievement, and the founder of BLAST.

    Despite using great internet buzzwords like “virtual signaling” and lots of poorly constructed parenthetical phrases, Russ gives absolutely no rational for his arguments and relies solely on sarcasm to attack candidates like Talauna Reed who have spent more time canvassing, talking to the community, and learning about the issues than the author of this article who couldn’t even bother himself to click on her webpage before laying down these 1,147 words of substanceless word salad.

    • Lucy Hulbert -

      You are not the “other” side, just the other side, no quotation marks necessary. Do you imagine that Black women with the heart, credentials and gift to lead, in this country, learn who racists are in a way in which they feel invited to engage in a mutually illuminating and educational conversation where respect for one another is assumed? No one cares about your feelings, Russ. You are a racist, Russ. You are not a victim here, Russ, and the reason we will vote for Tualana Reed is because we know, with all certainty, that not you and not an army of men just like you put together would be strong enough (not clever enough goes without saying) to slow down, let alone stop a woman as sure of her purpose and her vision as Tulana Reed. I’m sure you all will have plenty to say when she wins, but we rest assured that nothing you all can say will stop Tulana Reed fighting for the safety, health and healing of this community. The way that she has shown her enduring faith in and love for this entire community leaves absolutely no room for doubt. The city of Olympia will vote her into office because we cannot help but have that same faith in and love for Tulana Reed right back.

  • Russ Lehman seems to not have done any research for this article when it comes to Talauna Reed. It would have taken him less than 5 minutes to click on her website to see that of ANY candidate running for Olympia City Council, Ms. Reed is the only candidate who has a fully formed platform. Furthermore, Talauna Reed has exactly the kind of experience this council needs in that she is a social worker who works with the homeless every day, a proven community organizer, the recipient of the YWCA 2020 Womxn of Achievement, and the founder of BLAST.

    This article shows deep underling racism in his depiction of Talauna Reed’s candidacy. To believe that people only are voting for her due to her being a person of color is a racist insult to Talauna’s work, an erasure of her platform, and is insulting to the thousands of Olympia voters that believe in her.

  • This article is deeply racism in its depiction of Talauna Reed’s candidacy. To believe that people only are voting for her due to her being a person of color is an insult not only to Talauna’s life work, an erasure of her platform, but it is also insulting to the thousands of Olympia voters that believe in her. There is no Person of Color privilege and if anything, candidates of color must work harder than their white counterparts.

  • Whoa…. The comments about Ms. Reed are extremely covertly racist. Talk about dog whistle. You are completely dismissive of Ms. Reed’s education, personal and professional experience. People like to vote for candidates – like Ms. Reed not just because “their score on the diversity matrix” (ew, what a terrible way to describe someone) – but because she has experienced most of what our struggling community members have and overcome much of it. She has continuously demonstrated her ability to lead in our community – leaving no one out of the conversation. I encourage any one that has read this sad excuse of an article to please read Ms. Reed’s platform for themselves at Talauna4thepeople.com and watch some of the archived forums where Ms. Reed expertly lays out why she is qualified for the position 5 seat on City Council. Clearly Russ hasn’t. You can tell by the way he references “the record of the incumbent.” The record of the incumbent is a long list of inactivity with spurts of sympathy where she decides to provide veterinary care to the pets of our houseless neighbors instead of actually getting them housed AND helping care for their pets. Please, look beyond this article for your opinion about Ms. Reed. We need change in Olympia and Talauna Reed is it.

  • Russ Lehman’s recent article in the Tribune entitled “ELECTIONS. VIRTUE SIGNALING. IDENTITY POLITICS. DO ISSUES EVEN MATTER ANYMORE?” is disturbingly racist in its depiction of Talauna Reed’s campaign. He asserts that the only reason people are voting for her is because she is a candidate of color, as if there was some sort of Affirmative Action in Olympia politics. This assertion is first ahistorical and not based in any reality that exists in the United States. Candidates of color are not running from a place of privilege, in fact anything, non-white candidates are subjected to more scrutiny, threats of violence and a belittling of their life work. Candidates of color have to work harder and prove themselves worthy of taking up political spaces.

    The truth is, Talauna Reed has exactly the kind of experience that this city needs. She is a social worker and works daily in our homeless encampments. She is an experienced organizer and the 2020 YWCA Womxn of Achievement. She is a founding member of BLAST, a core organizer for SURJ, and has the endorsement of the Thurston County Democrats, an endorsement that her competitor did not secure for herself. And, had Russ Lehman taken the time to look at Ms. Reed’s website, he would have seen that she is the only candidate for city council who has an actual comprehensive platform.

    I would ask that the Tribune relook at the harmful rhetoric that Russ Lehman is using in his article. Internet buzzwords such as “virtue signaling” and “identity politics” are right wing dog whistles used to attack and discredit candidates of color. I would hope that the Tribune would do much better than this.

  • Anne Hundley -

    Hello Ross,

    I’m curious about the art of learning in public– who models that well?

    Your article’s assumptions about Talauna Reed’s primary motivation is inaccurate. I feel you haven’t spent much time hearing Talauna Reed speak at community forums, or reading her her campaign’s website. Her website details her solid, expansive platform and strong, needed qualifications.

    Reflecting on harmful assumptions is part of unlearning anti-Black racism. This video is less than 3 minutes.https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/06/05/robin-diangelo-five-tips-gr-orig.cnn
    Please watch it and commit to practicing anti-racism.

    Talauna’s experience and clarity equip her with readiness to lead as a city council member. Her ability to honor perspectives of people who have been disregarded (such as renters) is needed for a resilient future.

    Regards,
    Anne
    Pronouns: she/her

  • Talauna Reed has a resume that any community leader should aspire to have. She holds a degree in organizational management, is engaged in local politics, and is informed about issues. She is a caseworker for Interfaith Works, working with unhoused Olympians. She was a small business owner in our community. She volunteers with a diverse mix of community organizations ranging from political groups, to Black Leaders in Action and Solidarity Thurston County, and Showing Up for Racial Justice Olympia. She also organizes toy and book drives and Easter basket giveaways to support our kids.
    Talauna developed a detailed platform that goes above and beyond what many other candidates offered us. She discussed her ideas during candidate forums that are recorded and available online. Her ideas represent the mixture of her conversations with community members, knowledge of current policies, and research into what other cities like Olympia are doing.
    A lot of Olympians are struggling. Talauna Reed will bring their perspectives to council meetings through her lived experiences and her conversations with Olympians. She will create change on council just as she has done so successfully in her work and volunteering.
    There’s a momentum behind her campaign that I haven’t encountered before and it shouldn’t be dismissed. I’m tired of endorsements, editorials, and even social media posts that ignore the tremendous experience that Talauna Reed will bring to the Olympia City Council. It’s disappointing that her strong community support hasn’t been acknowledged in news media.

  • Candace Mercer -

    For the record I raised less than 10K and I absolutely have a different platform and voice. To say I am the same as everyone else is inaccurate. Here is my YT. https://www.youtube.com/…/UCsAu1dpgyapfou1d4z-_09A/videos Here is my writing on Medium. I am taking a totally different approach than ANY other candidate because I am a journalist who has reported on homelessness for the past four years. I have gone in the camps. I have heard hundreds of stories and I am running with those stories in mind.

  • Talauna Reed has a lot of important experience and organizing background that she is bringing to her candidacy for City Council. Yes, she is a Black woman which is not just a score on a “diversity matrix,” it also represents communities, perspectives and experiences that are not only currently unrepresented on city council, but almost completely historically unrepresented. (There has only ever been one other Black woman on Olympia City Council, Cora Pinson, elected for one term in the late 80’s). Talauna has deep knowledge of what it is like to navigate racism and violence, and what it is like to try to get answers when no branch of city or county government is willing to listen to her concerns. What would it mean for others facing similar obstacles to have an ally on city council? Talauna has first hand relationships with Olympia’s unhoused communities, she is a known presence in the encampments and understands what people need through ongoing contact and conversation. And, she is a skilled community organizer who hosts toy drives, meals, and other opportunities for the community to come together and support each other. If we want to live in a community that actually listens to and addresses the concerns of those who are most marginalized, who have least access to resources and mechanisms of power, Talauna is the absolute best candidate for the job.

  • Looks like the comments on this post are being “moderated” by the editor who is Rob Richards… The former campaign manager for Lisa Parshley’s campaign until he was fired for using unethical tactics. Rob – if you’re reading this and choosing not to post opposing views – you deserve to be fired from this job, too. You have no integrity.

  • Thomas K Anney -

    This article is peak liberal smugness. He isn’t wrong to point out that *some* candidates are hoping that Olympians will overlook their empty platforms because those voters are so angry (and rightly so) at the current council.

    But he’s way off base to put Talauna Reed in that same category. Talauna has the life experience, skills, and – yes – platform to address the real problems Olympians face. To dismiss her supporters as simply “voting along the diversity matrix” isn’t just dishonest, it’s insulting. Yes, Talauna is a Black woman, and, yes, city council needs POC voices; I support her because of those things, AND because the issues that Olympians care about are things that Talauna herself faces. She’s not a politician, she’s a person of the people. I have absolute faith in her courage and humility, and in her ability to listen.

    It’s fine to ask for plans, but Talauna has provided them! The idea that she lacks specifics isn’t just wrong, it’s obviously wrong. 5 minutes of googling would tell you. Why is he saying this? (I’m also curious if the author of this article applies this standard about experience to everyone? Is he also wondering aloud “how does being a veterinarian qualify one for city council?” Somehow, I doubt it.)

    My guess is that he’s avoiding standing by his awful opinion by pretending to be objective. Is he “concerned” that “some people” don’t like what Talauna stands for, or does HE not like what Talauna stands for? It’s fine to disagree, just own your opinions! Passing them on to some imaginary other (“to some..” “There are some who…” “For some…”) is cowardly – who are these people he seems to speak for?

    This is typical liberal gatekeeping: that we must value The Ability To Get Things Done (whatever that means) above all else. While experience within the system can be valuable, it can also be a drawback: it can shut out marginalized voices, and it neutralize fresh ideas – which is exactly what’s happened in Olympia. We need Talauna Reed on Olympia City Council.

  • […] Russ Lehman’s recent article in the Tribune entitled “ELECTIONS. VIRTUE SIGNALING. IDEN… is disturbingly racist in its depiction of Talauna Reed’s campaign.  He asserts that the only reason people are voting for her is because she is a candidate of color, as if there was some sort of Affirmative Action in Olympia politics.  This assertion is first ahistorical and not based in any reality that exists in the United States.  Candidate of color are not running from a place of privilege, in fact anything, non-white candidates are subjected to more scrutiny, threats of violence and a belitting of their life work.   Candidates of color have to work harder and prove themselves worthy of taking up political spaces. […]

  • Calling a Black Woman “angry” is an overt example of anti-Black racism. maybe research misogvnoir and start working on your racism. Not surprised Talauna gets slurred here when the campaign manager of Lisa Parshley is the editor of this “press.” I thought he got thrown under the bus by Lisa Parshley because her campaign sent a private investigator to stalk Talauna, and Lisa Parshley’s campaign also tried to get Talauna fired from her job! Apparently he’s still looking out for Lisa Parshley. So disgusting. Lisa Parshley and Mayo Selby both have both said racism is a problem in so-called olympia and that People of Color are needed at the head of the table. Then stop being a white politrickster!!!

  • I am glad this piece aroused interest enough that people felt compelled to add their comments, here, and in social media…even if, apparently, marshaled in part by the Reed campaign. After all, the goal behind the piece was to incite civic engagement and awareness, especially as it regards the election. Important note here: I have no connection, whatsoever, to any candidate.

    In an effort to reply to some of the comments posted here (as of this reading), I submit the following:
    Darek Bell, Reed’s campaign manager, accuses me of not doing my “research”. I am a fairly well informed citizen. In this case, nothing more, nothing less. Nowhere have I, or the Olympia Tribune held me out as “objective”, or my writing as journalism. As an Olympia voter, I have received numerous mailings. I have seen and listened to this and other candidates speak. I have read a number of articles written about candidate Reed – not just those written by her campaign. Do I know everything about her? Definitely not. But I do, hopefully, know what an informed citizen who is being asked to vote for the candidates knows.

    I was not clear when I wrote that there are certainly some voters in Olympia who will likely vote for her because she is a person of color, right after mentioning what was her motivation to run. It was likely my impatient writing style which conjoined the two and could leave the reader to believe I was alleging the ONLY reason to vote for Reed is her color. That would certainly do a disservice to Reed who has displayed great growth as a candidate during this race and has endeavored to broaden her reach and agenda.

    At the same time, it was Ms. Reed herself who told us all why she got into the race in the first place: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/meet-olympia-city-council-candidate-talauna-reed/ar-AAKNlqM . She also said she chose the race against Parshley so she didn’t
    run against a person of color, because she believed the Council needed more people of color. Not because of housing policy, land use policy, or impact fees. BTW, I want more people of color in leadership and representative positions also, and voted for a number of them in this election.

    Perhaps the most troubling, and unsurprising, rhetorical cudgel used by the campaign manager, and others here, is the label “racist”. The slinging of that word effectively ends a conversation. It’s often used by the speaker/writer to brand someone, they often don’t know (like here), with a label so venomous, so damaging and irredeemable as to render the accused incapable of a response. The indiscriminate and intellectually lazy use of that label, in this situation here, serves three revealing and unfortunate ends: 1) it says much more about the people who use that epithet when both they don’t know me at all, and as the very first response in a “conversation”, 2) it serves to distill and mitigate the word so that it loses it’s force and impact when it actually should be used, and 3) it is incredibly strategically myopic. I am called a “racist” (even a “covert racist”) when I also wrote about my belief in the incredible value of “diverse voices on our elected bodies” and of “underrepresented groups”, for them AND our community. I am an ally. Am I the anti-racist I want to become? Nope. But we likely agree on far more than we disagree. When the cudgel is used amongst ourselves it empowers and emboldens the “other” side and they take great joy in the self-destruction we endure and the then inability to use that word against them – where and when we really need to.

  • Chris Ostrom -

    Wow! Way to turn a political hit piece into a racist, biased hack piece! Got it – you are “all in” for the incumbents and don’t believe anyone else should even be allowed to participate in the election because you don’t like their positions. Guess what? Too bad! Thankfully you don’t get a voice or say in who runs and on what platform. How about this – stop back door endorsing candidates. You are a journalist – try reporting facts instead of opinion. Better yet, since you have clearly lost any semblance of objectivity, just register as a political operative and call it a day.

  • To be clear I never said Russ was a racist.
    I said he wrote an article with a lot of racist tropes and rhetoric in it. I do not claim to know what is in Russ’s heart, but I do 100% know what I just read. But don’t despair, there is an actually pretty simple fix. Apologize and stop publishing “edgy” rants on the internet.

  • Russ,

    Your comment in response did little to self-reflect on the problematic language used in this piece. You want to claim people don’t know you when calling out language that very much can come across as racist and/or sexist, and yet you very clearly do not know the candidate’s well enough when dismissing a woman’s credibility to “even if not in decision making/leadership positions” – if you did a modicum of unbiased research, you perhaps would find that Ms. Kessler is incredibly capable when it comes to decision making and leadership.

    When referring to a black woman as “angry” – you should know that the trope of angry black woman is the most well-known caricature used. Dismissing her to simply being supported because she’s a woman of color while ignoring her qualifications is racist, period. Your defensiveness in the comment section further exemplifies that you need to spend more time listening, and devoting yourself to being actively anti-racist.

    You owe these women an apology.

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