History, politics, people of Oly WA

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Why Do Young People Vote Less? Reframing the Narrative Through Brain Development

This isn’t normally what you come to this blog for. But I wanted to share an essay I have been working on for a few months on youth voting:

Implications of Brain Science on Youth Voting

There’s tons more context below, but my main point of posting this essay it to get input. So, read on, but also read the essay and let me know what you think. Comments are on in the essay itself.

My experiences during the 2020 election prompted me to re-examine two persistent themes:

  1. The stubbornly low voter turnout among those under 40 and
  2. The ongoing wonder of brain development, an aspect I’ve observed firsthand as I cruise through my 40s and my own children approach adulthood.

My social media often echoes during elections with despair over young voter apathy, with cries of “Why don’t they care?” practically handing the future over to “the old people.” However, my years immersed in local government and political discourse have led to a new question: are we asking the right questions about youth participation?

This is not an exhaustive academic study, though I do cite relevant scholarly evidence. Rather, it is an exploration informed by my own experience. I’ve been a local newspaper reporter, I’ve done a local politics blog as a hobbyist, I have co-hosted a local politics podcast and served as a library trustee, I’ve been deeply engaged in the civic sphere. Currently, I am in a communications role for a local office elections office. So, this essay is not a thorough academic study, but framed on years of accumulated wealth of firsthand observations.

The point is: what if brain development holds a key to understanding the youth voting conundrum? Between the ages of 20 and 40, crucial non-cognitive skills – resilience, self-control, and decision-making – essential for navigating the complexities of voting, undergo significant maturation. This might explain the existing age gap in voter participation and render traditional solutions, such as early civic education, somewhat inadequate.

This suggests we may need to consider alternative approaches. Could compulsory voting, a wider spectrum of political choices, or even non-voting forms of participation like town halls prove more effective in engaging younger citizens?

Like I said, this isn’t normally what I post on this blog. I took the time to do some research and frame my thoughts, but I’m mostly interested in feedback. You can drop a comment here, comment on the essay itself, or contact me some other way to let me know if you think I’m heading in the wrong direction or whatever.

Why we don’t see the news

Say you live in a neighborhood with older, educated people. The kind of people who make up the majority of print newspaper subscribers. Would you be afraid if you saw the newspaper deliveryman in the early morning? Would you recognize him?

During the same period of time we have seen the evaporation of local news, and along with it the actual printing and delivery of newspapers, we have also seen the increase of fear of another kind of traveler through our neighborhoods. Porch pirates follow delivery drivers from Amazon and other online platforms (but let’s be honest, it really is just Amazon). They quickly rush our porches, snatching up packages before we have a chance to retrieve them.

The phenomenon of online deliveries are a normal staple in our lives. There is an entire market of doorbell cameras and other accessories to protect or hide your deliveries. Videos from doorbell cameras are a consistent part of our media diet.

Online deliveries seem to have come out of the chaos of the early days of the pandemic, when we wondered out loud in mid-March 2020 if the police would use checkpoints to stop us from going to work.

Every option we had for going out into public suddenly had a separate option for no-touch delivery associated to it. Obviously, if you could afford it. All at once, between March and June 2020, blue trucks cruising our neighborhoods became normal. Along with the fear that those packages would be snatched off of our doorsteps before we were able to retrieve them. The package thief became the pilot fish of the basking shark of our home delivery economy.

Paired with the threat of catalytic converter thieves (the stronger, more violent, metallic cousins of porch pirates, crawling underneath cars, quickly cutting the valuable underbelly before skittering off into the night) we became newly aware of what was happening just outside our houses.

There became a sort of standard format to a post on Nextdoor.com or your neighborhood Facebook group. A homeowner would take a quick picture of someone walking through the neighborhood, wondering who this hooded person was. And if no one knew, and no one would ever seem to know who the blurry hooded person walking away from the photographer was, it was evidence that only increased suspicious was needed.

This is the context where anyone could mistake a newspaper delivery for a crime being committed.

When there were more newspapers being delivered, maybe a newspaper on the porch of near every house, the action of delivering newspapers was more recognizable. Subscribers decline, the newspaper owners cut days off printing, news coverage becomes patchy, you don’t recognize what you’re seeing at 2 a.m.

As news has declined, the news was still being delivered to some of our homes. It seems to make sense that this was more often in older and wealthier neighborhoods, where people still had a habit of paying to have the daily news printed out on paper and delivered in person.

After afternoon papers died decades ago, printing consolidated into fewer and fewer printing presses, paper delivery workers shifted from our own neighbors (thinking about the newspaper delivery boy, shakily steering their bike with a heavy sack of papers, tossing each one while also trying to stay upright) to wageworkers.

They are in their own cars, packed with maybe three or five different editions. Papers even stopped employing their own routes and used subcontractors employed by several companies. Printing presses used to be running four hours a day, printing out one or two editions for one newspaper’s flag. Now newspapers consolidate printing. They use a regional facility around the clock, printing several newspapers at different times of day, changing delivery to a professional, regional task.

Even paper companies are moving away from newsprint production to make cardboard boxes. Our porches see more boxes than newsprint.

And, newspaper delivery workers don’t work the dawn hours anymore, delivering as the sun was coming up. They work earlier in the dark night. Consolidation and longer routes, forced them to stretch out their days.

This was the nature of the world where Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer decided to leave his home after midnight in January to trail after a car visiting his neighborhood.

We like to talk about how newspapers are an important corner of our democracy and that in a lot of ways, they represent our civic life, our republic. Said President Thomas Jefferson: “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Sedrick Altheimer was delivering the guardian of the republic when the Pierce County Sheriff confronted him in fear that he was a thief. Altheimer tried to explain more than once that he was just delivering newspapers when Troyer told a publically-employed 911 operator that Altheimer had threatened his life, brought down the entirety of Pierce County law enforcement onto the situation. And then, Troyer apparently changed his story.

For me, it was the height of irony that Troyer spent decades professionally speaking to the press that filled the pages that were once so much more commonly landing on the doorsteps of his neighbors. He was the spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, and other than maybe the Sheriff himself, was the most well-known sheriff employee in Pierce County. But let’s be honest, he was the most well known sheriff employee because he was in the news.

And, this is the irony. When it came time to talk about the night with Altheimer, Troyer would eschew the local newspaper and public radio station and go instead to Seattle-based opinion radio to get his side of the story told. He didn’t need to go to the mainstream news anymore, because opinion-based content is beating it to our eyeballs.

We know what grabs our attention. In fact, we know what makes us read and what advertisers are able to leverage to get us to watch their ads. We know because that is where the smart money is.

The same thing that has happened to newspaper delivery workers has also happened to the news itself. Almost everything we read or see online is built to grab our attention. Alphabet and Meta have built ad networks that have nearly totally destroyed newspapers and other locally based news content producers because they were able to weaponize our attentions towards emotionally engaging content.

So, when what we see is actually sober, well researched, locally produced news, we see it as some other kind of partisan content. We don’t agree with it, so it cannot possibly be true. It drives us back into our more firmly held beliefs.

This isn’t an exact explanation about how this sort of belief reinforcement works. There is actually a way to get people, even hardened partisans, to read and take in what they don’t necessarily believe, but it is hard. But, the bad way happens more often.

It was smarter for Troyer to go to the media platforms that were sharpened on this post-newspaper attention economy. He could easily tell his truth with little challenge, and his fans would be there for him in large numbers because they were conditioned to go to those platforms to see the “real truth” that was finally not being hidden from them anymore.

Emotion-manipulating media platforms sew distrust in the establishment media because sewing distrust is an effective tool to keep their own fans from hearing counter-messaging and from looking under their own hoods and their own logical paths. And, while Tucker Carlson is normally talking about the New York Times or the Washington Post, the same strategy also taints the Seattle Times and the Tacoma News Tribune because (surprise) people don’t get nuance. But it is sometimes Jason Rantz talking about the woke reporters at King 5.

The economy of the local news means there is less and less money coming in, which means fewer reporters, a lower quality and quantify product being pushed onto digital platforms, and fewer subscriptions being taken for a print product.

So, when what we see is a newspaper delivery worker, we don’t know who the person is and the top cop sees a middle-of-the-night porch pirate.

And, what we see is responsible journalism, we mistake it for partisan, attention content, but just from the other side of the battle we all seem to be engaged in, because what is what we are prone to see anymore.

The easy and actually best way to rename Thurston County

Yeah, in fact, I do think we should rename Thurston County. Or everything named after Samuel Thurston, including Thurston Avenue in Olympia.

Here’s a brief update on why Samuel Thurston is not a good namesake. He never lived here, never visited here. His only actual impact here is the worst thing about him. Yes, he did write the Black Exclusion law in the Oregon Territory (which Thurston County was part of back in the day) and he did other things. But the worst thing is that he set our course that we travelled on well after his early death.

The name itself had more to with the politics of the moment in the 1850s. Thurston was a ruthless political operator. Major pieces of our region’s racist heritage took root from the Black Exclusion Laws, including:

The common thread through all of these episodes (and more) were that only white people should be allowed to paid labor. Everything else needed to be controlled and discouraged.

But, I don’t necessarily think we need to pick a new name. We can keep the Thurston moniker.

This was exactly what King County did when they changed who “King” honors from terrible Vice President Rufus King to really great Martin Luther King Jr. It is just a matter of finding a new Thurston.

The problem with “Thurston” that we didn’t have with “King” is that there aren’t any giants of politics and culture that we can point at immediately. There are a lot of good Thurstons, not single great one.

For example:

  • Rev. David Thurston of Maine was a pre-Civil War abolitionist minister. He would travel from town to town, preaching against slavery until they kicked him out.
  • Charles Brown Thurston, another New England abolitionist that served in the Civil War but also lived an otherwise quiet live. 
  • Rev. John L. Thurston, of Chicago. He was a fellow traveler of Martin Luther King Jr. and was president of the Chicago chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
  • Baratunde Thurston is a contemporary writer who has been very significant in the anti-racist movement. I mean, if you don’t know who this person is, I suggest you give him a look today. 
  • And, why are we so worried about last names? Thurston Moore was lead guitar for Sonic Youth. That’s pretty awesome.
  • Lastly, if you look back and deconstruct the name Thurston, you see some evidence that it is a construction of Thor (literally the god of thunder) and stone. As in Thor’s Stone. I mean Thor is pretty great, but not literally a Thurston. But, close enough to merit reference.
None of these people or imaginary made up gods are knock-it-out-of-the-park obvious like Martin Luther King Jr., but they all do have one thing in common: they are all better than Samuel Thurston.
So, here is my honest to god (Thor, whoever) answer to what we should with the name Thurston County (Avenue, of wherever). 
We should keep the name Thurston County, but strip it from Samuel Thurston and give it to literally all the good and decent Thurstons (and Thor’s Stone) that ever lived. 
I haven’t looked all that deeply, but there is no rule that I know of that says you have to keep who you name a place after to one person. 
I also don’t have an exhaustive list of Thurstons, but there is no reason that I can see that we can’t just open up the list again when we find a new one.

We should be able to rename Priest Point Park if we feel like it. And Squaxin Park makes perfect sense.

If you wanted to design someone who would be outraged at the prospect of renaming Priest Point Park, you could do much worse than me.

Priest Point Park is probably (outside state-owned parks around the capitol) the jewel of Olympia’s park system. More than 300 acres, featuring everything (except athletic fields) you’d want in a park, built first in 1905, it is big, it is old and everyone has been there. Now, the city council is reconsidering renaming it Squaxin Park.

I was born in Olympia. I’ve lived other places, but this is the place I’ve always considered home. I have a deeper emotional attachment to this place and the things that are here than anywhere else. And, for people who know me, that is an understatement.

I am also a cradle Catholic. I was raised in Olympia’s Catholic community. I went to school at St. Michael’s and church there every week for a good portion of my life. I was also born at St. Peter’s, but I doubt very much in the 1970s that the Sisters of Providence was what brought my parents to that particular hospital. It was the only game in town. I should also mention that while I was raised Catholic, and I have a latent respect for the faith, I walked away from it in the winter of 2009. But even then, it isn’t as if I have a axe to grind against Catholics or Catholic things.

I am also tied to here because of the things that happened here. I am very interested in the history of our community. I’ve written about it here at this blog and at other places. 

But it is the interest in history, or rather, how my particular taste in history, that drives me to want to  change the name of Priest Point Park. Simply, my interest in history is so I can help our community no understand our past, so we can make our future better.

It is important for us to have an accurate view of what happened, and give honors (like park names and statues) to things that matter, not just whatever we chose back in the day. We are allowed to review our past choices and then move on in a different direction.

But, here are a few good reasons for us to move on.

  1. The Oblate Priests of Mary Immaculate at Priest Point Park were only at Priest Point for 12 years. They showed up in 1848 and then moved on 1860. And, most importantly, they did not have any sort of direct connection to Catholic institutions that came later. St. Martin’s College, St. Peter’s Hospital, Sacred Heart and St. Michael’s were all founded decades later by non-Oblate members of the Church. To draw any connection between Oblate priests travelling west and other Catholic institutions is casual. 
  2. There is already another Priest Point on Puget Sound. Not just in the world, but very nearby here just north of Everett. And the northern one is an actual populated place, which probably makes it more significant. Seems dumb to have two. And if we want to change ours first, then good.
  3. The most important thing the Oblate priests did do is to act as a relay between the tribal communities in the South Sound and the white community during the Puget Sound War. The Puget Sound War was the conflict between the federal and territorial governments immediately following the Steven’s Treaties. The Oblate priests had spent a lot of effort trying to convert some of those Indians to Catholicism, so knew people on both sides of the conflict. But even this occurrence points us to the Squaxin Island Tribe, because we need to remember we were at war with them and we turned their namesake island into a prisoner camp. 
  4. Worse, Priest Point Park was where we imprisoned the tribal members who lived around Olympia before we moved them to Squaxin Island. Not a prison camp per se, but on the way to one.
  5. The entire logic behind sending missionaries to the west wasn’t to serve Catholics that had moved there, but to convert tribal members who had another religions already to Catholicism. Despite what Catholic historians will lay down later, an attempt at religious colonialism. Continuing to honor that portion of our history, especially given the rest of the context, is a weird decision. (I added this point a few hours after writing this initial post)
  6. The Squaxin Island Tribe asked us to. Their history runs deeper here, and their history is the one we try hard to ignore. Their history is the history we should try to pay closer attention to. The Squaxin Island tribal council passed a resolution on December 10, 2021 requesting the change. 
  7. Lastly, the priests never asked for the honor. They were long gone by the time the city ended up buying the property from the county over a century ago.

Renaming the park doesn’t take anything away from Olympia. Catholics still make up a significant portion of our community’s religious adherents. The priests didn’t front the money to the city in 1905 when the parcels became available from a failed housing development. That was George Mottman. Local lawyer P.M. Troy did the spade work, pulling together the title work to make sure the city got as much of the property as possible, since much of it was already split into lots. But we didn’t name the park after those two men. They just went with the inherited name that locals had always called the spot.

Forgetting Thanksgiving Island

A week or so ago, Feliks Banel put out a challenge to find the origin of the name of Thanksgiving Island. Thanksgiving Island was a small piece of land that you can see on some old maps on the stretch of the Columbia River between the Gorge and where the Snake joins. The image of an “Island of Thanksgiving” stokes the imagination. But the actual history of the naming is pretty pedestrian.

I think I ended up winning the challenge by finding a 1968 Oregonian article that covered geographic features that would disappear after the inundation by the John Day Dam reservoir. According to the article, Thanksgiving Island was named after an event. A steamboat landed on the island on Thanksgiving. That is a pretty normal sounding explanation, especially when you cross-reference the steamboat era of the Columbia River with when Thanksgiving as a national holiday was first coming into focus.

Thanksgiving Island disappeared under thousands of cubic feet of water of the John Day reservoir in 1971. Because even when it did exist, it was an island in a river, its existence was always temporary. These kinds of islands are formed and destroyed by erosion and sedimentation caused by the river moving back and forth across its flood plain, cutting new channels. 

Even without the John Day covering an entire landscape, that Thanksgiving Island would still exist today is an open question.

And this ethereal existence of Thanksgiving Island gives us a useful way to think about history, how we know anything in history and what we do with it.

Thanksgiving Island itself is interesting not because it tells us anything about ourselves, but because it was the only Thanksgiving Island recorded, and it is late November and people think about these kinds of things now. But there is a lot more to know about that particular stretch of the Columbia that we have forgotten.

During my internet searching to solve Feliks’ mystery challenge, I came across this personal history by Sam H. Gill, the “oldest living steamboat engineer” on the Columbia River. In his history, he recounts the details of a massacre at Thanksgiving Island that I’d already heard about and wrote up here.

During the Bannock and Paiute War in 1878, the U.S. Army outfitted a steamboat with a Gatling gun and set it to patrol the Columbia. Lt. Mellville C. Wilkinson commanded the gunboat Northwest as he and his crew patrolled the Columbia River. Wilkinson’s mission was to prevent a tribe from the Oregon side from crossing to Washington. He would commit one of the countless under-recorded massacres of Indians by American soldiers.

According to Gill, the Thanksgiving Island Massacre was quick and cruel:

In the afternoon when we had reached Thanksgiving Island, a band of Indians with a large number of horses were discovered on the north bank, evidently coming west. At this locality, there are a series of three high hills presenting rounded fronts and sloping down to the narrow flat area between the base of the hills and the river. The hill separated by deep draws or canyons which is the general formation of the Washington shore in this section.

On first sight of the Indians, they were just coming up out of the draws and crossing the front of the next intervening hill. They were about two miles upstream from us and perhaps 500 feet up the hillside. They were evidently surprised at seeing the boat and began hastening to the next draw, for a hiding place.

When the Indians didn’t respond to the whistle of the steamboat to stop running, “the Gatling gun was prepared and brought into action… The capacity of the gun is 400 shots a minute, and we fired at them for several minutes.”

Michael McKenzie writing in the Columbia magazine in 2008 recounts that even at that time, what Lt. Wilkinson commanded his troops to do was not universally supported:

Steaming down from Wallula, he fired his artillery and Gatling gun without the slightest provocation into a group of peaceful natives camped there, killing at least two men and one woman, wounding others, and laying waste to the entire camp. Even some of the settlers of the period reacted to his action with distaste, (A.D.) Pambrun calling it a “massacre” and stating flatly that “there was no excuse” for what Wilkinson had done. The following month the Walla Walla Union heaped scorn on the lieutenant’s action…

Massacre survivor Jim Soh-yowit in 1917 told his story to historian L.V. McWhorter

…a band of Indians crossed the Columbia at Oom-i-tal-lum and pitched camp on the Washington shore. There were women and children in this camp, all peaceable, the men not having many arms. A steamboat came down the river, and without any warning opened fire on us with what seemed a machine gun. A man named Wah-la-lowie, belonging at La-qwe on the Columbia, was shot in the belly and killed. He was a middle-aged man. A middle aged women named Wah-lul-mi from Ti-che-chim, on the Columbia, was shot in the forehead, and fell dead. The Indians scattered and hid. 

I had a single breech-loading rifle which I grabbed and ran among the rocks and lay so they could not see me. A few horses were killed. They fired at where I lay hid but did not reach me. Finally the boat went away without landing. Indians lost a lot of things, for they did not try to gather up their belongings.

Shaw-ou-way-coot-shy-ah to McWhorter:

The white people from The Dalles, they all organized and got guns and got a steamboat and went up to the village and they killed all the old people, [who] don’t do nothing, all the old ladies and all the old men and before these Indians got back to their home they were all dead so part of them went up to the Umatilla River and then part of them went up the Columbia River and crossed the Columbia River …and they came there to a white man and his wife and some of the Indians says, “Here the white people have killed our fathers and mothers and they were not doing any harm, now I am going to kill this white man to make even.”

The murder Shaw-ou-way-coot-shy-ah talked about is the much better documented revenge killing a few days later of two white people.

We know why Wilkinson’s Thanksgiving Island Massacre is forgotten and the murder of  Blanche Bunting Perkins and Lorenzo Perkins is remembered. It is the same reason we keep up the statue of John R. Rogers and say nice things about Senator Slade Gorton after he dies.

The history we know is skewed. We don’t write down nearly enough, and we seek to remember the things that keep us near our already existing legends. And, pulling the ends of history, so we can better understand episodes as clearly misremembered as the Whitman murders, is hard.

Every historian should feel chastened by the last election in Virginia. The common trope is that one of the reasons Democrats did not do well was because voters were afraid of how history will be taught in schools. Targeting the 1619 Project puts the continued understanding of history in the bulls-eye. There is a real force behind not continuing to research the years our civilization has existed, because the information we surface is contrary to the accepted narrative.

We absolutely forgot why Thanksgiving Island was named what it was. We also forgot the Thanksgiving Island Massacre. But we didn’t forget the Perkinses. And knowing what we know and why we know it helps us see ourselves and the harm we caused. And if we find echos of that harm in our lives and our communities, we can try to make it better.

A good apology includes two things: an explanation of what you did wrong and what you will do to fix it.

And like the geomorphology nature of Thanksgiving Island and the landscape capture of the John Day dam reservoir, our understanding of what happened in the past has ebbed and intensified.

To be honest, the name Thanksgiving Island is trivia. It was a fun adventure, it gave me a chance to chat with a cool historian, but it doesn’t help us move forward. 

Re-remembering the Massacre of Thanksgiving Island is much more instructive. It gives us a peak into the brutality of the Bannock and Paiute War and how our country came to dominate our region. Knowing what we did is the first part of a good apology. Knowing what harm we created.

The second part of a good apology is much harder.

How proposed legislative and congressional redistricting maps impact Olympia and Thurston County

Starting last week, redistricting commissioners in Washington State have been releasing proposed maps for legislative and congressional districts. 

Democratic appointees April Sims and Brady Piñero Walkinshaw and Republican appointees Paul Graves and Jo Fain have taken different approaches to moving borders in Thurston County and around Olympia. In this post I’ll take a look at the legislative and congressional proposals, taking a zoomed in look at what they could mean for our community

The need for all of these legislative maps is to shrink the 22nd District, it is about 7,000 people too large by its current boarders. Alternatively, the districts that the 22nd traditionally borders (the 35th and 20th) are both underpopulated by a few thousand. Each of the proposed maps approaches this task in different ways. 

The Graves and Walkinshaw maps approach by taking similar routes. First Graves:

Then Walkinshaw:

Both of these move various rural districts into different combinations of southern Thurston County and let the 35th district in Mason County take up more of mid-suburban Thurston County and Cooper Point. The 22nd District is going to become more compact, and its interesting that most of the mapmakers are taking off the west side and leaving urban Lacey largely inside the district. 

In addition to Lacey/Olympia balance, taking the Cooper Point peninsula out of the 22nd would leave Evergreen State College out of the 22nd for the first time in history.

This includes the College precinct, which is the most dependably Democratic district in the county. While one precinct hardly a legislative district makes, it is interesting to see it on the other side of the line.

Another note about Walkinshaw’s legislative map. In it, the 35th takes up so much of Thurston County, I would be super curious what the population split between Mason and Thurston County is. The 35th has traditionally been a Mason County district, but in this map, I think Thurston County might make up the majority of the population.

Sims’ map for the 22nd is the most outlandish, in my opinion:

Take a closer look:

The map takes away so much of the Westside that is literally splits the City of Olympia in two! There isn’t a lot I can really say about this map other than to say that I don’t think that’s a great idea.

Compared to that, Fain’s map isn’t very fun at all. Of all four, it maintains the current 22nd district the most:

Nothing much to see here.

Speaking of nothing much to see here, and moving on to the Congressional District maps, here is Sims’ proposal for the 10th in Thurston County:

This is a fairly status quo map, which pretty much keeps the congressional district lines in Thurston County the same while carving Mason County out of the 10th, making it a strictly Thurston/Pierce county district. Like the 22nd, the 10th is also slightly overpopulated and needs to shrink to maintain proportionality. 

Walkinshaw’s map for the 10th is downright fascinating:

I mean, that’s simple.
It is the same as Sims’ in that the 10th becomes a Pierce/Thurston district, but it takes in *all* of Thurston County. I have to admit, I like how simplistic that becomes.
Graves’ proposal for Thurston County is by far the most radical:

It would remove the 10th congressional district from Thurston County altogether and move it into Pierce and King counties. Then, Thurston County would be carved up between three more competitive districts. Oddly, while this 6th district would stretch from Olympia out and around the Olympic Peninsula, including the entire Kitsap Peninsula, it would still be a fairly safe Democratic district. This surprises me, but that’s according to commissioner Graves

Fain’s congressional map is a split between Sims’ and Graves’ in how it treats Thurston County.

The 10th still makes it all the way south to Olympia, but the 6th and the 8th still split up the rest of the county.

Most fascinating about the Republican maps is how they treat the SE portion of Lacey. Both map separate Lacey proper with at least a portion of the Lacey UGA from the city.
Graves:

Fain:

What I can say about this technique is that it is a small example in our county for Republican mapmakers to stretch rural districts as far into suburban precincts, without breaking up Lacey.

A few lessons from the 2021 Olympia City Council primary election results



1. Huynh and Payne (obviously) have the upper hand going into the general election.


From the top line results, with both Huynh and Payne both breaking 50 percent, this seems obvious. But, when you look deeper at the map, you can really see how both Robbi Kesler and Corey Gauny are boxed in. From an analysis I did four years ago, I found that neighborhoods with more left-leaning voters tend to stay home during the primary. So, if you are a right-leaning candidate, you need to do really well to make up for the loss of ground due to higher turnout in the general.
Looking specifically at the Kesler/Huynh map, you see how Kesler’s geographic center is in SE Olympia, with a far SW side precinct thrown in. Huynh is even able to get across I-5 into SE Olympia, pinning Kesler into several traditionally right leaning precincts.

I didn’t map Bruce Wilkinson’s precincts in with Huynh or Kesler, because he didn’t even come close to winning any. But when you do look at his precinct level results (however small) his strongest precincts are already on Huynh’s side:

Kesler looking to his supporters for help in November likely will not be a fruitful effort.
2. Lisa Parshley has more territory to win than Talauna Reed

This is probably the most interesting race to map. But first, I have a mea culpa. I was wrong about Talauna Reed doing well in SE Olympia. I had seen a fair number of Reed signs down on that side of town, specifically in front of houses with anti-density and housing options signs. I also based it on what I saw in the returns in 2019, when a progressive anti-density candidate did better in SE Olympia (and in more conservative precincts overall for that matter) in her losing effort. What I think likely happened is that housing is less of an issue this year, than Missing Middle or Housing Options.
And this is why I think the ground being ceded by Wendy Carlson (who lost in the primary) will be easier for Parshley to win in the general than Reed. Carlson (like other right of center candidates) had her center of gravity in SE Olympia. But she failed to win anywhere else, even some far Westside precincts that have been pretty dependable for conservative candidates.

Who did win those other precincts was Parshley. In fact, when you look at the Cooper/Weigand map below, you can see plenty of places where both Parshley and Weigand won. Weigand had the best show map of the conservative candidates, so you’d expect that he’d have some overlap with candidates outside his lane. But that he overlapped most with Parshley gives her the best chance of picking up Carlson’s precincts.

3. Cooper/Weigand will be a repeat of Parshley/Miller from 2019

Just a repeat I made earlier in the first point, conservatives need to do amazingly well in the primary to be able to last through the rising turnout in November. Weigand did as well as any conservative, but not well enough. His map is pretty classic for a conservative, winning in SE Olympia and out far on the Westside. He even took some near in water view precincts. 

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But again, his finish behind Cooper (both in the low 40s) isn’t enough to carry him past the general.

The scale of out of town real estate investment in Thurston County is small

A candidate for Olympia City Council recently released a list of ideas to prevent out-of-towners and corporations from buying homes in Olympia. The end would be to make housing was more affordable by making it harder for people who don’t live here to bid up houses. This is an interesting line of thinking, but first I wanted to dive deeper into the phenomena he describes. His post leans to heavily on anecdotal evidence of distant corporations snapping up single-family homes.

Thankfully, Thurston County GeoData allows you to download the entire parcel database. This can tell you who bought any piece of property, when, and for what price. Here is what I found:

1. More rentals, more out-of-state buyers. But within the normal range.

Both the number of out-of-town buyers and homes simply bought for rentals has gone up in the last year. That said, they’ve gone up to a point well within the range of what you would expect in any given year since 1995.

For rentals, I looked at single-family home parcels where the owner’s address did not match the address of the parcel:From the above chart, about half the percent of single-family homes in a given year are purchased as rentals. I assume there is a skew towards homes purchased further back to be listed as rentals since many homes would have been bought and sold several times since 1995. So, if a house today has a sale date in the 1990s, it is likely a long-term rental held by the same person. But you can even see in recent years (say since the economic recovery in the mid-teens) there was a slow decline in the number of single-family homes bought for rentals, with a slight uptick this year.

For out of state owners, I just looked at the owner’s state:

Again, there was year-by-year data available back until the 1990s, and houses with sale dates that far back are long-term purchases, probably making them more than likely to be long-term rentals. But even these have owner addresses more likely to be in Washington. And again, there is an uptick this year in out of state purchases. That said, the vast vast vast majority of single-family home purchases are made by residents of Washington. The uptick this year when from two percent to only five percent of all purchases.

2. Two major out of state corporate buyers, but in context not a big deal for Olympia or the county

Lastly, I was able to take a look at who the buyers had been in the last year with out-of-state addresses. The GeoData spreadsheet does not include names, only addresses. But with a bit of sleuthing, I was able to find two  corporate buyers that are currently active in the Thurston County Market. Home Partners and Invitation Homes (as of early June) own 71 parcels with single-family homes across Thurston County purchased since the beginning of the pandemic.

Again, that is definitely a number, but when compared across all purchases since March 2010 (arbitrary date I picked to put a pin in the current pandemic-fueled housing market), their total purchases only count towards 1.1 percent (71 out of more than 6,400 transactions) of the market. 

Also, the map of their purchases are telling:

Most of the homes purchased by these two corporations are outside of Olympia. In fact, they are mostly in newer neighborhoods on the fringes of the advancing wall of sprawl of our community. The actual parcel-by-parcel impact, at the very least, is being felt in Lacey, Tumwater and the unincorporated county, but not Olympia.

Yes, some single-family homes are being bought by institutional buyers. And in the grand scheme of the entire single-family housing market in Thurston, it is a tiny amount. 

But why should this worry us? Is it because we think all homes should be owner occupied?

I think we (or at least the linked-to candidate above and their supporters) have a bias in how they thing about apartments and single-family homes.

Most of the large apartment complexes being built in Thurston County are built, funded, and operated by massive out-of-state corporations. When I lived in a fairly new apartment complex in SE Olympia, I sent my money to a corporation in Texas with a regional office in Seattle. While there had been some neighborhood-level hand wringing about that fairly modest complex being built because of traffic and unsavory renters, none of the concern was about whether the apartments would be owned by an out-of-state corporation. 

But there is concern about out of state corporations owning single-family homes, because there is a mindset that these should be owner-occupied. This is the natural order of things.

There is little to no benefit for our city to be bought and owned by outside investors and incredible negatives. It creates a dynamic where people such as teachers are being outbid and forced to rent rather than building equity in a home they own and deepening their roots in the community or being forced to live far outside of town and commute great distances. That is a burden on the environment and our infrastructure as well as a cost on the teacher.

“… forced to rent rather than building equity in a home they own and deepening their roots…”

I’m not saying institutional corporate ownership of homes (single-family or apartment or in between) is a thing we need to encourage more of, I’m just saying we should examine where we decide to wring our hands.

Lacey has been bigger than Olympia for some time, and why that matters

 Once the actual census data is publically released in August, we’re all going to hear officially that Lacey has more residents that Olympia. 

Lacey has been nipping on our heals for decades, and has significantly closed the gap in the last 10 years. In 2010, Lacey was within 5,000 of Olympia. This has narrowed to 2,000 two years ago as both cities grew.

What is already unofficial (but will become official in August) is that Lacey has 3,000 more residents within its city limits than Olympia. Mayor Andy Ryder posted the news in a comment thread late last week:

Judging the meaning of pride over the raw number of people living in your city notwithstanding, it is important to point out that Lacey should have reached this milestone years ago. 

And that is because Lacey has a massive urban area in its urban growth area (UGA) that is has never been annexed. When you count up everyone who lives in Lacey or within its legally defined UGA, there are over 90,000 people. Olympia only has about 66,000 all told in our UGA and city proper.

So, the question remains, if Lacey has annexed much of its UGA earlier on, when would it have passed Olympia? My guess is that would have happened sometime in the early 1990s.

Back in 1990, Lacey has 19,000 people inside the city borders and Olympia had 33,000. So, from there I have to guess how many people lived in the portion of Thurston County that juts up next to Lacey along Martin Way on the way out to Hawks Prairie. Thankfully, most of that area is part of the census as the Tanglewilde/Thompson Pace Census Designated Area.

Currently, this area (two 1950s era developments that straddle Martin Way east of Carpenter and west of Hawks Prairie) is over 5,800. But in the 1990 census, it was slightly larger, at 6,061. So, when you pack together the other urban and suburban portions of the UGA that aren’t in Tanglewilde and Thompson Place (including the Meadows), it isn’t a stretch to assume you’d make up that 14,000 person gap with Olympia.

I didn’t pick 1990 as an arbitrary date. I might be off by a few thousand or so in my estimate. But 1990 is a particular time for Lacey and its decision in how it was going to grow.

Let me show you a few maps.

This is Lacey’s city borders in 1990:

This is the land that Lacey has annexed since 1990:
This is Lacey’s actual Urban Growth Area:
And this is the density inside both the city and the UGA:
Here is the story that these maps tell me. Looking east in 1990, Lacey had a choice in how it was going to grow:
  • It could slowly begin annexing the neighborhoods that were contemporaries of the original neighborhoods that had become Lacey in the 1960s, or
  • It could start annexing mostly empty land north of Interstate 5 to connect with a planned retail area at the intersection of the interstate, Martin and Marvin roads. 

Obviously, the city fathers in Lacey chose the latter option. So it took until today for those square miles gobbled up after 1990 to fill up with enough people for Lacey to finally surpass Olympia. 

But here is the coda about why this discussion really matters.

Here is the Justice Map image of the 2010 racial makeup of northern Thurston County broadly (the darker the colors, the more white):
Generally speaking, the further east you get, the less white the neighborhoods are. Until you get to the far edge (beyond Tanglewilde) there are places that are majority non-white. For a county that is 82 percent white, this is saying something. I don’t want to point out that Lacey is not a diverse city. Standing at 74 percent white, it is the most diverse city in Thurston County. But, in deciding to annex north of the already established neighborhoods east of the city, it decided not to reach out to even more diversity.
To Lacey’s credit, they are starting to annex into these areas. It is a good thing because it not only vaults Lacey past Olympia in population, but it also brings city services to places where there should be city services.

The long history of anti-corporatism in Cascadia (again) and I wonder where that might take the Washington State Republican Party

 

Just some social media that I hung onto. But it tells a consistent tale. Not only government can be trusted, big business can’t be either.

During the peak of the restaurant-centered protest wave during our COVID-19 winter, I started noticing a consistent talking point among speakers at protests and on social media posts. It was normally centered around a Costco on the Eastside of the state that had been able to stay open despite more than 150 employees testing positive with COVID-19. The logic was that the state government was favoring large corporations over small mom-and-pop stores. 

The actual details of the debate notwithstanding (even chain restaurants were closed for sit down service and mom-and-pop retail was open), the consistent beating of this drum is a reminder falls into what looks like a new theme for conservatives in our region. The most telling of these examples is a post on former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp’s website targeting Republican lawmakers that have taken money from “Big Pharma.” 

While a Republican calling out corruption from big government may seem mind-bending, it really shouldn’t be. We have a long history of anti-big business, anti-corporate tradition across our regional political identity.
I can point to a few historic episodes that can illustrate the evolution of this anti-corporate attitude, and where it might lead us still.
One of my favorite anecdotes about Cascadian history is the (lack) of effort by Willamette Valley farmers to successfully capitalize on the Gold Rush. While Puget Sound settlers spent zero time doing all they could to make as much money as they could by sending timber for the bustling Bay Area, Oregon farmers yawned.
Best told by David Alan Johnson in “Founding of the Far West,” the failure to capture more of the California trade was deeply engrained in the Valley’s ethos:

(The farmers’) response to the California market — their enterprise — was motivated as much by a modest desire to improve their landholdings, assure their household’s self-sufficiency, and enhance their families’ material comfort as by a drive to command greater market share or increase production as an end in itself. 

Puget Sound settlers (that had a few years lost to production compared to the Willamette Valley) were more likely to be from capitalist New England. Oregon’s farmers on the other hand were more likely to be from areas of Appalachia and the South that did not have large slave populations. In fact, you can trace anti-black laws in Oregon to the settlers’ desire not to import the slave-based economy to Cascadia. But, not only slavery wasn’t welcome, but also apparently large-scale agriculture.
I’ve covered this ground before, but the discussion at the founding of Oregon was in fact about how corporations would integrate into the state:

Many of the delegates entered the convention with a strong mistrust of corporations. They had seen abuses in the Midwest and elsewhere in which unscrupulous corporate operators had left innocent stockholders deep in debt and workers unpaid… Some of the debate would revolve around stereotypes of corporations as large and uncaring machines of the economy that routinely chewed up farmers and workers.

This is years before the Wobblies and the more institutional development of strong labor unions in Cascadia. But the anti-corporate attitudes of the decedents of the small Willamette farmers was baked in to the batter. You can see it in Washington’s failed 1870s constitutional convention (“Some of the provisions adopted by the Walla Walla Convention reflected distrust of corporations and railroad”). And the proclamations of Senator Homer T. Bone against a nascent Boeing in the 1930s. 

If we dig deeper, we can see the clear settlement patterns of where this anti-corporatism comes from, the Appalachian settlers that at first came to the Willamette Valley, but also were dotted by settlements of New Englanders. This thesis is most clearly laid out in Woodard’s “American Nations,” but that work draws from Johnson’s “Founding.” What we are seeing now is the Appalachian anti-corporatism having a moment inside the nationally-favorable to business Republican Party.

And the criticisms seem to be correct. Democrats in Washington seem to fit comfortably dealing with corporations. Former Governor Gregoire famously worked the backrooms in the run-up to the COVID-19 lockdown almost a year ago:

Seattle is home to some major international companies, and two of them, Microsoft and Starbucks, have major operations in China, where COVID-19 started. They also had access to some modeling from medical research that raised concerns about the possible spread.

They quickly came to the conclusion the region needed to start preparing for a significant outbreak, Gregoire said. The executives decided they had to communicate the seriousness to their employees, about 250,000 total, but based on science, data and facts.

They began reaching out to other businesses and the rest of the community, trying to help increase the blood supply and acquire personal protective equipment.

“We have created a unique public-private partnership that is not just for Seattle but literally for the whole state,” Gregoire said.

The daily noon conference calls continued, and have grown to about 250 people, including business leaders from Spokane and experts from Washington State University. They get briefings from public health experts and from state and local officials who are about to make a public announcement about government action and want feedback.

The reason I blockquoted a huge portion of that article is to emphasize that this coordination didn’t come from thin air. The hand-in-glove relationship between big businesses and Democratic Party led government was not in the least strange bedfellows. At least for right now, Democrats occupy the political space that was created by city-based New England settlers. Comfortable with capitalism and comfortable with government. 

This isn’t to say that many of these businesses wouldn’t rather see regulation-wary Republicans in charge of the state. But that is a far cry from not being able to work with Democrats.

If the rhetoric from this last winter is just a convenient weapon to use against Democrats who happen to be in charge or less conservative Republicans who also happen to take Pharma money, that’s one thing. But if this is a return to anti-corporatism defining one of the regional political parties, that is something completely different. I would be interested in seeing where that goes, policy-wise.

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