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?