Monday, December 26, 2016

How Democrats could have won the Thurston County Commission

[EDIT 12/26/16 at 3:50 p.m.] I added an explanation of the chart and added a link to Steve Salmi's post at Green Pages that I meant to include.

Okay, so it's true that there was more voter participation by south county voters in the last county commission election.

But, I've have had a hard time reconciling the data I see in this chart below with the map I put together in that linked post above.

This chart ranks independent and Republican returns across a partisan spectrum in Thurston County. The most conservative precincts towards the left, the more liberal on the right. What is shows is that independent returns tracked well with Republicans and a consistent number of otherwise Democratic voters across nearly every precinct switch independent. They had the same slope, just one was a bit higher.

The map included in the post I linked to shows greater participation by south county voters than in recent elections. The story is that that there was increased participation driven by the rural policies of the current commission. The chart above shows voter confusion across the board. That no matter where you landed on the partisan scale of Thurston County, more people voted for conservative independents than for down-ballot Republicans.

The pro south county argument would be that a Democratic voter in rural Thurston County would vote independent because they were tired of how the county was treating rural residents. Well, sure, okay. But, that doesn't explain the behavior of typically Democratic voters in the cities, were the plight of the rural landowner is less well expressed.

So, if you erase what I call voter confusion from the north county cities (Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater) by pasting the partisan down ballot results over the county commission results, you get a 1,600 vote margin for Democratic county commission candidates. Here's my spreadsheet (column O in "if cities stayed pat").

This sort of contradicts what Steve Salmi is talking about at Green Pages:

What the data suggests is that urban Democrats will not win a county commission seat unless they are competitive in unincorporated parts of the county — which even in a high-turnout, Democratic wave election like 2008 represent the majority of votes. In 2016 both of the Democratic candidates got clobbered in that realm. To make matters worse, as I discuss here, neither Hulse nor kindred spirit Jim Cooper did very well in Lacey or Tumwater. Interestingly, these two cities saw their proportion of total votes jump 2.5 percent over 2008 while Olympia went down by .1 percent. 
This is why I suspect that in 2016 something more was going on than high turnout in the south county. Steve Klein may be at least partially right — Donald Trump had coattails. However, the most important single factor may have been that Gary Edwards and John Hutchings ran as independents, which appealed to swing voters throughout the county.
What I'm saying is that if Democrats maintain a more typical partisan lead in the three northern cities, then they'd be able to overcome even a very energized rural vote.

So, if the Democratic candidates had been able to sew the story that independents really were Republicans in sheeps' clothing, then they would have been able to tighten the results. That said, I know they did try to do that. In low information races, it's hard to create an effective narrative sometimes. But, maybe in two years, with a strong majority, the conservatives will shed their sheep clothing and progressives will be able to make a better case.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Well look at that, it really was a south county revolution



Back a few days after the election, Ken Balsley had this to say:


I'll be honest, I really doubted Ken's assessment of the election of two party-independent conservative candidates over two Democratic ones. I was looking at the graph below, and I saw something totally different in the election returns:

What I saw was voter confusion, a thick-enough layer of voters that wouldn't vote for a Republican but would vote for a party-independent conservative across every precinct, from the most conservative ones to the most liberal.

But, that chart doesn't deal with voter turnout, only percentage of vote across a precinct.

I had to wait until the precinct level turnout data was available earlier today, but I was able to put together this map (based on this spreadsheet) that compares ballots issued against votes returned for conservative candidates.

And, if you do that, this is the map you get:




Just a quick word of warning: this is the back-of-the-napkinest of back-of-the-napkin maps. Because precincts have changed a lot since 2008, I did a lot of deleting of precincts because they didn't match up anymore. That said, think the analysis stands.

This isn't a map about winning percentage, but rather conservative turnout compared to possible turnout. And, it really shocked me. It really does show that conservative turnout really did increase this year when there were two independents on the ballot and that turnout was centered mostly in south county.

If I had been right, the colors would have been much less stratified across the map, much more dark in the north county and much more bright in the south county. But, the pattern here is clear. Conservative voters were much more active this year in the south compared to the last four commission cycles.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Opportunity for Olympia for All



A week or so ago I took a look at the geography of the failed income tax in Olympia.

And a while back I looked at the geography of voter drop-off in citywide elections.

Now this week, I put them together!

The exercise I did on drop off was to figure out if there were neighborhoods that were more robust in their support of the original statewide income tax and the local version. Where did the vote for the first tax (which passed in Olympia) drop the least when it came to the second vote (which failed in Olympia)?

The purpose is to find out if there is a correlation between a neighborhood a robust supporter of an income tax and a neighborhood where fewer people would vote in a city council election.

It looks like there is a "slight" correlation (in the words of a smarter person that I asked to take a look at the numbers for me):

This chart is not mine (that smarter person did it), but I did collect the data:

So, if you're a local political group that is interested in progressive politics, changing city hall and increasing participation in local elections (like Olympia for All, amiright?) these precincts that ranked both high in tax support and low in local voter turnout would be your main targets, right?

In the map below, I categorized the neighborhoods, combining their rank in voter turnout with tax support, and came up with four categories. Green is the best, then yellow, orange and red.



Except for downtown, this is a very interesting map to me. Southeast Olympia as a broad swath of orange, that's not surprising at all. That's where you'd expect higher turnout and a lot of side-eying of progressive ideas.

But, the green neighborhoods are fascinating. They're mostly newer, non-walkable and high density neighborhoods on the edge of Olympia.  There is a large collection of them along Harrison Avenue west of division and the most of the ones on the east side are east of South Bay Road.

And, a lot of the typical close-in, very walkable neighborhoods rank very poorly. And, this isn't just because they retain participation in local elections. If you go back to the Opportunity for Olympia map, you see less support for the local property tax.

There is opportunity out there, but it's among the newer apartment buildings and neighborhoods on the edges of town.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Drive-throughs are worth it if it means doing something in Briggs Village



Something is better than nothing at all and we've been waiting a really long time.

Update (11/22/16 (9:22 a.m.): the planning commission voted in favor of the amendment to allow drive-throughs last night.

Last night the Olympia planning commission held a public hearing on allowing drive throughs inside the commercial portion of the Briggs Urban Village. Long the dream of walkability and livability in the SE Olympia sprawl, Briggs has been an urban village in name only. It has been a moderate mix of mixed density housing. But even there, the real diversity of single family homes and high density apartments are kept well separated. Lots of great townhouses though. That's a plus.

Anyway, lacking a core tenant like a grocery store in the commercial core of the neighborhood/development, the idea to encourage smaller junior anchor tenants was put forward. Ralph's Thriftway was supposed to move in at some point, but apparently that plan has fallen off the table. So, these kind of tenants would be drugs stores or coffee shops. In our case, Bartels or Starbucks.

But these folks need drive throughs. From a letter written (pdf) by the commercial broker currently selling Briggs Village locations:
As part of our efforts to attract junior anchor retail tenants, we have had several conversations with representatives of Starbucks and Bartell Drugs. Starbucks has had an interest in the site for quite some time, but the company will not consider new locations without a drive-through, especially in suburban areas.
While Briggs is an “Urban Village” under City of Olympia regulations, as a practical matter it remains a suburban site for purposes of retail site selection criteria. An anchor tenant with wide brand recognition like Starbucks or Bartell Drugs would draw other brands and businesses such as restaurants and service oriented businesses, as well as professional office tenants. The variety of such a tenant mix will create synergy thus attracting customers. 
Essentially, you can put an urban village inside a suburban sprawl, but that doesn't mean the suburban sprawl will suddenly be urban. Southeast Olympia is the least walkable part of town. To get anything done, short of going to school or maybe a park, you need to drive. There is a YMCA down here, but unless you're literally me or my immediate neighbors, you're probably going to drive there too. Also, you're likely to use a vehicle to get to school or the park. Just saying.

Also, this is not a lecture on the value of walkability. You can find that elsewhere.

So, while Briggs without coffee shop or drugstore drive throughs would be nice, in the current reality, we're never going to get a real urban village with houses, townhomes, apartments and commercial development without them.

But, we should still work to infill and rethink the entire landscape of SE Olympia to make it more walkable and more diverse, we should do that too. But, that is a much bigger piece of work. Maybe some day, we'll abandon the drive throughs.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Four things to think about the 2016 Thurston County commission races (2014 all over again, sort of)

Over the past couple of years, I've been rolling over how an independent candidate with conservative values was elected in a usually safe Democratic county. Bud Blake's win in 2014 over Karen Valenzuela took a lot of folks by surprise, so a double repeat of that victory for the other two commission seats by Gary Edwards and John Hutchings was supposed to be preventable.

I was thinking that a larger electorate in a presidential year and more awareness of the nuances of an independent campaign would help seal a Democratic win. Anyway, that didn't happen. Let's look at how.

1. Just like 2014, it was a matter of beating the typical Republican

In 2014, Blake was able to beat a typical Republican in every precinct, from the most conservative to the most liberal. In most of these districts, even the very most liberal, there was a layer of voters that would not for a Republican in a down ballot race (attorney general, lieutenant governor) but would vote for an independent against a  Democrat in the county commission race.

 

2. Unlike 2014, core Olympia liberals did not abandon the ballot 

Something I noticed later was that if you looked at 2014 results in terms of turnout, the closer you got to Budd Inlet, the more likely you were to not fill out your ballot when it came to the county commission race. While these lost voters would not turned the campaign to Valenzuela then, it made it practically certain she would lose. Countywide, dependable liberal neighborhoods in Olympia need to turn out for Democrats to win.


While there was a geographically based drop off in voting, it seemed to have happened not in the home base of the more liberal candidates, but in the in-between area of the two camps. In the map of above, higher turnout for the county commission races are darker. So, in my reading, the lighter placemarks are mostly in either politically stratified neighborhoods around south county (Republicans and conservatives) and Budd Inlet (liberals and Democrats). Both camps did a good job getting their base to vote. And, the suburban tweeners stayed home. Well, we all stayed home. It's vote by mail.

3. BONUS: Kelsey Hulse did not improve her mark from the primary

If you take just the precincts that were involved in the Hulse Edwards primary back in August (commissioner primaries are just in the district they represent), she did just a percentage worse. Which isn't bad. Standing pat in the more conservative east district (Yelm to the eastern portions of Lacey) isn't a bad strategy for a liberal candidate.

And, of course, since I have place information for these precincts, here's a map of where she did better.



The darker the pins, the better Hulse did compared to her primary finish.

Looks like a lot of nothing to me. Not that there wasn't some moving around, there certainly were some places that she did better in (and worse in) November to August. But, I don't think it makes geographic sense to me. I'm mostly sharing it because I want to see if anyone else sees a pattern I don't.

4. SUPER BONUS: Hulse did better than Cooper in Olympia

From the brand spanking new Green Pages (which makes it a super special bonus), Steve Salmi writes:
One could argue that this occurred because Edwards was the tougher opponent — but only outside the liberal Democratic stronghold of Olympia. 
By the same token, one might suggest that Hulse’s campaign materials did a better job than Cooper’s of energizing liberals. This, in turn, may have partially been because Hulse raised roughly $74,000, a good $12,000 more than Cooper, according to the Public Disclosure Commission
One might also wonder whether a robocall that attacked Cooper had an impact. But again the question arises: Why did he outpoll Hulse everywhere else except for Olympia — particularly if the robocalls targeted south county residents? 
Perhaps other factors may be at play. For example, did Hulse more aggressively doorbell in Olympia because, unlike Cooper, she needed to introduce herself to a core voter base?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Geography of the Opportunity for Olympia loss



From what I heard, there were several reasons for Opportunity for Olympia coming to Olympia. The income tax to pay for the first year of college for Olympia high school graduates was run here because Olympia was particularly fertile ground. We had supported the last statewide attempt at an income-like tax and we have a good track record of supporting school levies.

But, in the wash, Initiative 1 ran far worse in Olympia than either 1098 (47 percent to 56 percent) or local school levies (over 75 percent last time around).

So, first let's take a look at how Initiative 1 ran against our 1098 results precinct by precinct.



The lighter the placemark, the worse Initiative 1 did against 1098. In a few places (farish westside and far Eastside) Initiative 1 actually did better than 1098. But, the losses in the close in neighborhoods and Southeast Olympia were too much to overcome.

Let's take a close look, though, at the precincts where Initiative 1 did better. These aren't usually precincts I play close attention to when I think about Olympia politics. They seem to be areas around the malls and hospitals. A few precincts around the South Sound Center St. Petes and then up Lilly Road supported the local income tax over the statewide one, as well as precincts around the Capital Mall and Capital Medical Center. I have no idea what this means.




Again, the lighter the placemark, the worse Initiative 1 did against the last levy in February 2016.

But, again, there were no precincts where the initiative did better than the levy. We can't see a repeat of the South Sound Mall/St. Pete's precincts, since they're inside the North Thurston school district. But we can see some dark spots in the westside near Capital Mall/Medical center. And, again the South Capitol to SE Olympia axis, Initiative 1 did far worse.

Most interesting is that there are a few well off westside, water view precincts on the westside where the levy (property tax) did worse than generally than the initiative (property tax). My guess, people with lower incomes but better home values (water view westside) like Initiative 1 better than people with lower home values and higher incomes in the deep SE side. Just a wild guess based on neighborhood stereotypes.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why lying is legal in politics here (or isn't, but the courts will probably make it legal again)

One quote from the robo-call dustup made me think:



You could read this (as did I) as a simple statement of "I'm telling the truth" or at least "I think I'm telling the truth," but in Washington State that isn't necessarily true.

In Washington State, Glen Morgan and Karen Rogers could well be lying, and know their lying, and still not run afowl of state law.

Twice now the state legislature has tried to outlaw lying in political speech, and twice the state Supreme Court has sent them back.

In the 1990s, there was a state law that barred candidates and campaigns from sponsoring "with actual malice" lies.

The first case that struck down these rules involved an assisted suicide initative, specifically one flier that the proponents of the intiative said were innaccurate about suicide safeguards.  The second had to do with one of Tim Sheldon's state senate races in which his opponent tried to make hay over his weak defense of Mission Creek.

Between the two cases the state legislature tried to clean up the law, making it possibly better able to survive court challenge.

The bottom line of these cases is that the Public Disclosure Commission, which usually regulates political and campaign speech in Washington, can't get into the lie vs. truth business.

The deeper reading of these cases shows a divided court weakly coming to this conclusion. Both cases show a small majority coming to a very thin legal conclusion that the state has no part in the lie vs. truth business.

Justice Talmadge in 1998, writing (sort of) with the majority:
I agree with the majority that RCW 42.17.530 is facially unconstitutional because it sweeps protected First Amendment activity within its provisions by penalizing political speech, even if knowingly false, regarding an initiative measure.   I write separately to emphasize that I am not convinced that the same is true where a statement contains deliberate falsehoods about a candidate for public office.   In my view, there is merit to the contention that the Legislature may constitutionally penalize sponsorship of political advertising of such a nature by enacting a narrower statute than RCW 42.17.530.
And Alexander in 2007:
Chief Justice Gerry Alexander joined the majority as well, but in a separate concurrence. He wrote that "the majority goes too far in concluding that any government censorship of political speech would run afoul of the United States and Washington constitutions," but he agreed that the law was unconstitutional because it was overbroad.
But, then, two years later, the legislature again tried to clean up the law to make it illegal to maliciously defame a politician running for office. From the final bill report of SHB 1286:

It is a violation of the campaign laws for a person to sponsor, with actual malice, a statement constituting libel or defamation per se under certain circumstances: the false statement is about a candidate and is in political advertising or electioneering communications; a person falsely represents that a candidate is an incumbent for the office sought in political advertising or an electioneering communication; or a person directly or indirectly implies the support or endorsement of any person or organization in political advertising or an electioneering communication when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement.  
A candidate is also prohibited from submitting a defamatory or libelous statement to the Secretary of State for inclusion in the voters' pamphlet about his or her opponent. For the purposes of this act, "libel or defamation per se" is defined as statements that tend: to expose a living person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or to deprive him or her of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse; or to injure any person, corporation, or association in his, her, or its business or occupation. 
 If a person makes a false statement, with actual malice, about himself or herself or falsely represents himself or herself as an incumbent, it is not libel or defamation and is not a violation of the campaign laws. It is also not a violation of the campaign laws for a person or organization to falsely represent that the person or organization supports or endorses a candidate as persons and organizations cannot defame themselves. If a violation is proven, damages are presumed and need not be proven. 
So, there. Clear as mud. Each time the legislature tries to make it unlawful to lie, then the courts kick it back and the legislature tries again. If we were to take a broader view in our historical circle, we're at the point where we wait for a case attempting to enforce this law makes it back to the Supreme Court.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

John Hutchings (yet everyone knows him as Hutch) preaches ignorantly about how Home Rule and county government works



During a recent debate with Jim Cooper, John Hutchings told a tale about why he isn't necessarily in love with the idea of county government becoming more representative.

But, he get's most of it really really wrong. A little disclosure, I am a member of Better Thurston, which advocates for Home Rule and a charter form of government. So is Jim Cooper.

1. Hutchings says we would need to amend the comprehensive plan if we decided to have home rule.

Just quickly, the comprehensive plan is a document required by the Growth Management Act, basically where certain buildings will be built and where people will eventually live.

A charter is how county government is organized.

They have nothing to do with each other.

2. He says we'd have an unelected super bureaucrat vetoing decisions by elected officials. Hutchings:

The charter would also have a component of an executive manager for the county. And no matter what the people want and what the commissioners vote on, the executive manager, who is not an elected position would have veto power. And, I don’t think I like that because that takes what the peoples’ wishes are away from the people. 

Oh man, where to start.

First, in the charter process it is up to an elected group (a disappearing committee) to write a county charter, essentially a county constitution of how political power is divided up through the county. How many seats on the county commissioner? Is the clerk elected? That kind of thing. So, that anything at all (like a veto wielding bureaucrat) would be required is false.

If you look at charter counties throughout Washington, you see a significant diversity of how they manage their own affairs. Whatcom has a non-partisan county commission with seven members and an elected executive. Both San Juan and Clallam stuck at three commissioners.  King County has a nine-member non-partisan council.

That said, Hutchings says that an executive manager could veto decisions by an elected body. So, more than a few of these charter counties did decided to go with a council or commission appointed administrator. This is, in fact, very similar to the forms of governments of Lacey, Tumwater and Olympia. The elected officials approve a budget and policy and the manager executes it.

While this gives the administrator day-to-day control of the county government, they can not veto a damn thing. In American government terms, a veto is literally turning back a decision by the elected board and saying "nope, we're not going to do this."

Veto power does not exist with any single unelected administrator with any local  anywhere in Washington State.  Seriously.

Also, while the Washington State constitution envisioned noncharter commissioners as a cross between executive and legislative actors, Thurston County has in fact had one of these unelected administrators for decades. So, if elected, Hutchings would step into a power structure very much like the one he fumbled through describing.

3. I understand that the county charter process is complicated. So it makes sense that people oftentimes don't get the nuances. But, there's a reason why it's complicated. Its serious business changing our form of government.  And, people running for office should be serious enough to understand it.

This late in the game, you'd hope that a county commission candidate would have ironed out any confusion they had with the process.

But, you know. I don't think Hutchings thinks he's wrong. I think he's pretty confident about his understanding of how the charter process would work.

Listen to the confident way he explains his understanding of the relationship between a county manager and elected officials. He's trying to walk the listener through a complicated arrangement that he is just not getting himself. These aren't shades of gray either here, or things that honest people can disagree about. This is literally a question of elements of government existing or not.

By this point in time, Hutchings or any candidate for county commission, should have their facts straight. Especially about such a hot topic (of which, there are many).

Monday, October 10, 2016

Gary Edwards literally does not believe in land use regulation

Here's Gary Edwards, candidate for Thurston County Commission, talking about his vision for land use management:
I am certainly not in favor of taking through regulatory action. So, if we need to take, we need to compensate.



On the other hand:
You want to be able to do what you want with your land. But at the same time, landowners should not be able to destroy things for the people around them. It shouldn't be a free ticket to do whatever you want.
The point of view that Edwards articulates here is an aggressive and far-right approach to land use management that would not only throw growth management into chaos, but was soundly rejected by Thurston County voters ten years ago.

What he's talking about is called "regulatory takings," which is a strictly legal term that has been hijacked by the right. They've started using the term to describe any sort of local land use rule that prevents a landowner from realizing an economic gain from their land.

County is stopping you from building 100 homes on your 10 acres? That's a taking.

City stops you from opening a convenience store? That's a taking.

Basically, and restriction that keeps the landowner from making any money from their property would be described as a taking.

You can see how cities and governments would just give up on trying to preserve natural resources and the livability of our communities than try to enforce now expensive rules against landowners.



Back in 2006 a coalition of right-leaning organizations came to Washington with Initiative 933. This initiative would have forced local governments to pay landowners anytime a local zoning or land use law conflicted with their interests. If the government couldn't pay, the landowner was free to do what they wanted.

What happened that year was that  64 percent of Thurston County voters rejected the initiative that was based on Gary Edward's bad idea of land use management. That was higher than the 58 percent who voted it down statewide.

Even in Oregon (where the idea to give developers a free ride started with a similar initiative a few years earlier) the idea was turned back in 2007. The people there saw how bad the idea really was, allowing development where it wasn't appropriate and where the natural resources simply couldn't support it.

So, what Edwards is describing is really an extreme, and already rejected, idea for how Thurston County should protect communities and natural resources. Giving landowners free reign by holding the county hostage anytime they disagree is a terrible idea.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

It matters that Gary Edwards cost Thurston County $500,000 in lawsuits



After his last run for sheriff 14 years ago, Gary Edwards faced a couple of lawsuits from his former opponents. Both now former sheriff deputies, they claimed that Edwards used the power of his office to discredit them during the campaign.

Edwards ended up beating both of them, in the primary and then eventually in the general election. But one of those lawsuits was settled for half a million dollars, and in the other, a jury sided against Edwards.

The lawsuits include an assortment of allegations, including harassment and retaliation against Ed Thompson and Glen Quantz. In the case filed by Quantz (in which the jury decided against Edwards), the former deputy claimed that Edwards delayed an internal investigation to make sure it was still open until after the election. The internal investigation ended up clearing Quantz.

I pulled together most of the news coverage of Edwards' time as sheriff in this file.

A judge eventually threw out the jury decision against Edwards in the Quantz case. He didn't decide the allegations weren't true, he only said that as a sheriff, Edwards had the "qualified immunity" to do as he wished.

These incidents and costly lawsuits are only the most interesting aspects of Edwards' service as sheriff. Another is a episode where he joined a fast speed pursuit into Pierce County on Interstate 5. Without telling anyone else involved in the pursuit, Edwards performed a "rolling slow down" during which the suspect (who escaped) his his unmarked car.

What gives me the creeps is that the lawsuits, the questionable tactics, all happened relatively recently. Up until now, I don't think anyone has brought up these issues.  Edwards has brought up issues of county commission actions that predate the current commission and obviously don't involve his opponent or anyone else running for county commission. But, his time as sheriff shows at the very least a management style and decision making that everyone should be able to question.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If you're a Republican in Thurston County, shouldn't all these Independents bother you?



If things go a certain way, it is possible that come January Thurston County will have three commissioners that are not Democrats for the first time in my memory.

But, none of them would be Republicans either.

Admittedly Bud Blake (elected two years ago), Gary Edwards (who was a Republican in the past and might be elected this year) and John Hutchings (also might be elected this year) could easily be Republicans. But, this year they're all Independents. And I don't think I've heard a good explanation as to why.

As much as I'd like to ask Edwards why he ditched the Republican Party, I think I know the cynical answer. Blake showed that a conservative could be elected countywide if they ran without the Republican name.

But, mostly I want to hear from Republicans. And, I know how hard it will be for me in particular to get answers from Republicans given my point of view, but I'm honestly interested. I've spent the last few weeks poking around various online forums and communities for local Republicans and have come up short.

Shouldn't conservative candidates run as Republicans? Even if they disagree with 20 percent of the Republican platform, there is enough "big tent" in the party to contain them right?

If you are a Republican, and feel so inclined, fill out this short survey (LINK).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Where does Bill Bryant's 100,000 come from?

Not since 2004 when Dino Rossi got within a hair of non-incumbent Christine Gregoire has a Republican gotten close the governor's mansion.

This year Bill Bryant is making his run and he's staking his election on the turnout of 100,000 extra conservatives:
His path to victory, Bryant explained, hinges on turning out some 100,000 Washingtonians — mostly likely-Republicans or conservative-leaning independents — who failed to vote in the 2012 election but probably would have backed Rob McKenna, Washington’s last GOP candidate for governor.
This 100,000 is pretty core I suppose to Bryant's math, because seems to talk about them a lot.

“Who do you think elected Jay Inslee?” Bryant asked volunteers at the Clark County Republican Party headquarters Sunday evening. It wasn’t just Democrats, he said.
 There were more than 100,000 voters in the 2012 election who would have picked Inslee’s Republican opponent Rob McKenna but who didn’t vote, Bryant said. McKenna lost to Inslee, a Democrat, by about 94,000 votes.
So, as I understand his argument, his goal is the turn up turnout among conservatives (who identify as Republicans or not) while hoping Democratic turnout stays flat.

I tried to simulate a couple of ways he could do that. Here is my math. Feel free to check my work, I've been wrong before. 

First, among the counties that fell below the average turnout in the gubernatorial election in 2012, I turned the turnout among Republican voters up to the average of all the counties. The above average counties I let stay the same.

This results in Bryant just barely losing to Inslee 1,506,000 votes to 1,582,000 votes.

Second, I took Republican turnout and pumped it up to the highest turnout of 87 percent in the gubernatorial election. This is incredibly pie in the sky since a lot of counties have turnout much lower than that. But, in this case, the Republican wins with 1,652,166 votes. Way more than enough.

The third one was trying to find the Goldylocks solution, how far you'd need to pump average voter turnout to just the right level to get Bryant over the finish line. This turns out to be 84 percent across the board, assuming Democratic turnout stays the same. This still sounds like a lot of turnout.

But, none of these are the reasons why I think the 100,000 voters are bunk.

The chart below illustrates the second option, 87 percent turnout across the board. It shows you the actual votes (in blue) and the new votes (red).


King County is still very much king.

There are more new votes (via math) to be had in King County then there are in the most Republican of Republican counties. But, I don't think these votes actually exist. Churning up new voters in King County (and other large Puget Sound counties) would only churn up new Democratic voters.

So, I'm not sure I think the 100,000 voters Bryant and the Republicans are looking for exist.

Lastly, I hope everyone appreciates the irony of Republicans talking about the benefits of higher voter turnout.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lacey is less of a place than it would take to be useful to tourists

Lacey is taking a lot of umbridge with the position of some folks in Olympia that Lacey serves very little purpose to possible visitors (Ken Balsley):
The Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau (VCB) is about to embark on a major promotion campaign to promote Thurston County as a destination for visitors and tourists. It’s entitled “Experience Olympia.” 
A majority of the Lacey City Council – – as well as myself – – think this is the wrong way to promote the entire region, and that concentrating on “Olympia” demeans and denigrates the other two cities which kick in money for the VCB.
Just a quick note, please read to the bottom. This is not a Lacey sucks post.

Ken later makes a great point about the use of the Regional Athletic Center (funded by most of us, led by Lacey and located outside of Lacey), but I'll take on his position more directly that Lacey is owed any respect as a "place" that people would visit.

For starters, consider this piece in Strong Towns about the irony of taking engagement photos in a suburban development. Which is most of what Lacey is really.
Engagement photos are either urban or rural. They are either a former factory or a leafy meadow, the brick wall of a forgotten factory or an empty beach. Never the subdivision. Never the cul-de-sac.  
… 
There is a reason no one takes engagement photos in the subdivision; they can be places not worth caring about. We wouldn't have been criticized if it was.
And, just to apply this premise to here, this is a map of geotagged photos with the term "engagement" in our area.


Most of the photos are in the most placey place in all of Thurston County, downtown Olympia, the Capitol campus and Budd Inlet. Lacey does have churches, is has St. Martins and the Worthington Center, so I know people getting married in Lacey. But, when people are looking for a place to take photos in preparation for their wedding, they go to a place.

Similarly, when people travel, they also need a place to be. A series of only drivable neighborhoods connected by parking lots and big box stores similar to either the ones they came from or the ones in Lakewood 20 minute away is not place enough for tourists. The Regional Athletic Center, notwithstanding of course.

But, for Lacey, this isn't some mistake of history. It didn't come upon this state by accident. It has planned not to be a place.

These two maps in particular makes me think of Lacey less of a place and more of a convenient municipal organization.

This is a map of where the people are east of Olympia:


And, this is a map of where Lacey is, almost straining to get out of the way of a lot of the people who live east of Olympia:


This is not a natural community or a natural border around a place. This is a city that bends itself to become successful, but not serve people.

I remember being in a forum for candidates for county sheriff and asking if it would be easier to be sheriff if Lacey annexed the urban neighborhoods like Tanglewild and the Meadows. I don't remember the candidates taking the question very seriously, but most assumed Lacey would never annex those older, dense almost urban areas.

Here is a short visual history of how Lacey grew north of those neighborhoods since the 1980s. It was more convenient for Lacey to annex places that didn't have people (at the time of annexation) and stretch itself around places where there were people.



And, I know full well why Lacey hop-skipped over these older, in decline neighborhoods along Martin Way. Back to the engagement photos post:
These places were not cherry-picked. They are everywhere. The drive-in snout house is more common than all the brownstones in America by a factor of 20. 
We know the story of these places. We know what is next: decline. And, to use a happy couple as the backdrop probably does feel like a slap in the face. While I never intended to make a moral statement (certainly not about individuals living here), the photos do make a judgement on our culture. We build places that cost us lots of money, don't work very well, and people ignore them when they're looking for nice place to take a photo.
By the 1980s and 90s, the older neighborhoods that didn't become part of Lacey when it first came to being in the late 60s were too far gone, too below standards, too expensive to maintain for Lacey to want to bring them in. In the pessimist's view, they were what the rest of Lacey was possibly going to become.

I'll acknowledge one more point from the pro-Lacey name folks. There are a lot of hotels not in Olympia that carry most of the freight for the visitor and convention bureau that want to go Olympia only. It would make sense to acknowledge their places and their contributions because. at least the hotels outside Olympia use their own cities as label right?

Not really. It's a mixed bag overall, but the Olympia name carries pretty far. In the Hawks Prairie section of Lacey:


This is a little bit misleading, some of these hotels are actually in Olympia, but the other ones in Lacey still use Olympia:


And, also the Tumwater hotels also use the Olympia name:


I hope everyone reading this gets down this far, because I'd like to say this as well: this is not a 1997-esque Lacey Sucks sort of post. Because I don't think Lacey sucks. I'm not a huge fan of unwalkable, unbikeable, retail sales tax centered city development. But if I wanted to spill word tilting against that wildmill I'd be pretty unoriginal. To that end, I think Lacey has been doing some good work to correct the sins of the past.

And, since I've lived in the most Lacey-like part of Olympia (SE side) for the past 14 years, it would be supremely ironic for me to take too hard a swipe at Lacey.

So, let me sum up this way. I can see why people live in Lacey. Tens of thousands of people live there. Lovely neighborhoods, convenient to drive to the store. Drive anywhere really. Other than youth sports tournaments, I don't see why anyone would visit there. I wouldn't suggest anyone visit my neighborhood as a tourist either.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Crazy Idea: City of Thurston



One of the frequent criticisms of the Thurston County Commission is that usually the people who serve on commission come from where most people in the county live, one of the three major cities.

The criticism goes, being city residents, though, they aren't necessarily impacted by the policy decisions they make for residents in unincorporated areas. We'll just ignore the fact that unincorporated rural landowner and incorporated landowners pay the exact same rate to the county in taxes for the the rest of this post.

So, here's a crazy idea: why doesn't the entire unincorporated part of Thurston County become its own city? And, I'm not just talking about the parts of rural Thurston County that really should have their own local government (looking right at you Rochester and Grand Mound), but I mean the entire unincorporated swath of it.

That way, the rural Thurston City government would take over nearly every local government function like planning, policing, and garbage pickup.

Thurston County would still exist, but would be stripped down to the things that really only counties can provide, like courts, elections, that sort of thing.

Their is a history of large rural area of a county declaring themselves free from the tyranny of local county government by becoming a city. In 1990 Bainbridge Island became its own city when the pre-existing city of Winslow swallowed up the rest of the island.

The article I linked to shows some of the issues that the islanders had to face to with being their own bosses (increased population growth, growing pains of ramping up services and just paying for government), but it would be interesting to see rural residents stand on their own.

Because, as you might know, landowners in Olympia pay the same rate to the county as the ones living off Fir Tree Road.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Where Jim Cooper, Allen Miller and John Hutchings got their support


Glen wrote about how Allen Miller's candidacy for county commissioner was some sort of shield against fellow non-partisan John Hutchings, benefiting Jim Cooper. His point was that Miller would take votes from Hutchings and possibly force a Cooper Miller run-off in November.

At least on the top line results, that is sort of what happened. Cooper took over 35 percent of the votes in the five way primary while Hutchings and Miller fought it out for second at just under 20 percent. After all the voters were counted, Hutchings survived Miller and came out on top.

This map shows each candidate's strongest dozen or so precincts, where I could assume each candidate had their strongest support.


On the surface, you see something really interesting, Cooper did well in the inner northern Thurston precincts, Miller did well further out in the less walkable neighborhoods while Hutchings had his strongest support either much further out or right up next to Miller.

This suburban band around the edge of the northern Thurston urban areas that Miller won is also lit up against Sue Gunn in her election.

And, I suppose whether you believe Miller was a Cooper patsy is whether you believe Miller had more of an impact on Hutchings or Cooper.

For me, election returns not-withstanding, I doubt Miller jumped into the race to support Cooper. Knowing Miller, his number one priority in public life is somehow preserving Capitol Lake. This isn't a massive secret.

Cooper made a brave move recently on the city council to build in a position of pro-Deschutes estuary restoration on the city's primary planning document. If Miller enter the arena as some sort of pro-Cooper tank, he would have ignored his primary civic goal.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Undervotes in 2014 didn't cost Karen Valenzuela the race, but they would've made it super close

It turns out that people not making a choice made the 2014 county commission race less close than it really should have been. And, these voters, if they weigh in this year, could tilt the county commission altogether.



I learned something interesting when I started backtracking on my old post about how Bud Blake and how he won an county commission seat in 2012 as an independent. This was interesting to me because in any other year, I think, Blake would have run as a Republican. So how much did party labeling matter?

Did Democrats give themselves permission to vote for a conservative independent just because the label wasn't Republican?

In my first run, it sure did look that way. I compared percentages of the returns of an aggregate 2012 Republican by precinct compared to Blake's percentages. The chart that was produced showed a narrow band of what would've been Democratic voters in 2012 voting for an Independent (would've been Republican) in 2014.

But, that analysis ignored a few things:

1. Off year elections in Washington State are not presidential (or gubernatorial elections). There's lower turnout since top of the ticket partisan elections aren't there. In an email Matt Huot even pointed out that there was no federal Senate election in 2012, so the voter pool really had no top of the ticket partisan talisman.

 2. Therefore, voting percentages are not voting totals. It really matters how many actual voters fill in your bubble, so comparing a low turnout race to a high turnout race really wouldn't work.

So, what I did was backtrack and compare Bud Blake's election in 2012 with what I could put together as a partisan comparison, the combined WA 3 and WA 10 congressional races in Thurston County.

And, what I found was amazing.

Almost 6,000 voters that made a choice in their congressional election didn't choose between Bud Blake or Karen Valenzuela in the county commission race. And, this is in a year that congressional Democrats dominated congressional Republican candidates in Thurston county, 48k to 33k.

The bad news for partisan Democrats is that even if you add all of those undervotes to Valenzuela's totals, she still would have lost by a just over a thousand votes. But, you could imagine if a few things when differently, a thousand votes out of more than 80,000 cast is a distance that can be traveled.

So, this year when we're likely seeing two Democrats in county-wide commission races against candidates who esque partisan labels, where would the undervote problem matter most?

Good news is that it matters in the precincts that already skew Democrat.

This chart ranks precincts by their partisan weight (most conservative to the left). The blue line is Bud Blake's percentages across this spectrum. The red line is Karen Valenzuela's plus undervotes. You can see the problem of undervotes becomes more pronounced in the more liberal precincts.


If this year's crop of Democratic commission candidates can convince otherwise Democratic voters to come out, then the independent label problem becomes much smaller. And, in a presidential/gubernatorial/senate year, we can almost be assured that's going to happen.

And, just to visualize it another way, you can see that these precincts also focus on Olympia. If these voters come out in the commissioner's race, we'll have a much different ball game than 2014.


Monday, August 01, 2016

Towards Cascadia is not a particularly useful book about Cascadia


I had been incredibly interested in reading Ryan Moothart's Towards Cascadia. The book had been advertized on one of my favorite soccer podcasts. And, being not eager to read the entire thing on my phone, I spend a little money on a cheap tablet that I could use as an ereader since the book at that point was only available in ebook form.

In the end though, Moothart does not impress.

Overall, he seems to skip over the part where any writer who takes on the topic of Cascadia should describe and backup what they actually mean about Cascadia. I'm familiar with the Cascadia that Moothart writes about, it is the one that comes almost directly from David McCloskey and r/Cascadia. While I'm not a particular fan of this version of Cascadia, I understand where it comes from. And, unfortunately, Moothart does a poor job presenting it.

For one, he seems to over-estimate the average citizen's commitment to particular political ideals. Take for example this passage:
We do not have to choose between our local differences east and west of the Cascade Mountain Range in an attempt to gain a dominant influence throughout the entire region; we're in this together as Cascadians, regardless of our differences, whatever they may be.
Here Moothart seems to gloss on what really are fundamental differences on politics and society between people from urban Seattle and rural Franklin County.

He also seems to misunderstand the nature of society here:

In Cascadia, our understanding of freedom and status quo extends to the environment that surrounds us. The living communities that exist in nature are part of us; we take into account their right to exist, free from overconsumption or exploitation.
What now? Really?

Even the most pollyannish assessment of how we are doing in terms of protecting the environment around here would state that most of us act like "nature is part of us." This is simply not true. While commendable as a goal (I really do think we should act more like this), it isn't the way things are. And, if this book is supposed to be a reflection of reality, it simply isn't a good one.

The main jabs of the book are two longish and detailed detours into what I could only describe as political science descriptions of how Moothart sees the political nature of Cascadia. But, these detours lack specifics I'd find useful.

Where Moothart does a great job is describing how exactly a regional secession would work. This is a well detailed chapter and breaks down in both American and Canadian terms how the states and provinces that make up Cascadia (even on a sub-state level) would actually leave. Moothart does a great job of even showing how this process would be peaceful. I've often been curious about these processes if they existed, and he does an admirable job of walking the reader through them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Some good did come from the Tyson Seafood plant purchase



We're all arguing about the real fault for the purchase and white-elephanting of the Tyson Seafood plant, but there's something worth pointing out. While the plant itself still sits empty, there was some good done on another piece of the property.

Quixote Village, an award winning and self governing homeless village, has called the site home for just over two years now. The history of Quixote Village is pretty interesting, growing out of a protest downtown and then riding the wave of local politics on homeless encampments and churches for a few years before settling down.

You can read a lot more about the Village and its history here.

So, yeah, I'll admit it. The Tyson plant has been empty and in county hands for going on 20 years now. Some people who first purchased it now support Gary Edwards for county commission. The folks that moved on to another solution support the same people I'd vote for.

But like most history, things are never really as simple as an easy retelling. The entire property the county purchased in the late 90s did not got to waste. Obviously.

Monday, June 27, 2016

EDIT: Emmett, do more research. Gary Edwards should tell the truth about who is responsible for the Tyson Seafood plant purchase

Well, when I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I was wrong about this one.

From the Olympian in 1999.



My research stopped in 1998 soon after the purchase of the property when Oberquell and O'Sullivan both made steps to move forward and Edwards was largely silent. If I took one more step into 1999, I would have seen organized and vocal opposition by both commissioner O'Sullivan and Sheriff Edwards.
I still think there's a point to Commissioner Oberquell being involved in the original purchase of the old seafood plant. And, I think Edward's implies too heavily that the plant was purchased under the leadership of the current commission. But, that said, I was wrong.

Gary Edwards, now candidate for county commission, gives a long-winded interview to a local conspiracy theorist. It includes this small little gem about a listless county commission, stumbling into a multi-million dollar problem:

 

Gary, you're so smart. Only if we'd listen to you then. Or your supporters.

But, it turns out that not only was Edward's complicit in the purchase of the Tyson Seafood plant in the late 1990s, but two of his supporters help guide the purchase and early development.

First though, I should back up and say that Edwards glosses over the legal situation the county was in at the time, by simply saying "I was running an overcrowded jail."

Back in the late 90s, the Thurston County jail wasn't just overcrowded. It was beyond that, it was inhumane. To the point that the ACLU was pressuring the county to improve the conditions in the jail. Edwards was running a bad jail.

In a letter from that era from the ACLU:

As long ago as 1996, we reported to you some of the complaints that inmates relayed to us. These included:
  • severe overcrowding, with many inmates forced to sleep so close to toilets that they were stepped on or urinated on by other inmates
  • poor sanitation and lack of access to hygiene supplies
  • infrequent changes of clothing and linen
  • denial of prescribed medications and lack of treatment for health care
  • limited indoor or outdoor exercise areas
  • lack of access to a law library
  • inmate kites or grievances not answered
  • broken plumbing and poor ventilation
Most of these problems were directly attributable to overcrowding. We received complaints from corrections officers as well as inmates, who also expressed their concerns that the dangerously overcrowded situation made their jobs unreasonably dangerous due to the enhanced risk of injury from assault, fire, and communicable disease.
So, as a way to push back against overcrowding, the county commissioners spent $3.8 million to buy an old fish processing plant only a few miles from the current county jail.

So, who was on the county commission then? Diane Oberquell, who is listed as an Edwards supporter, Judy Wilson and Dick Nichols (both Republicans). When Edwards was serving as county sheriff at this point, he was also a Republican.

And, since even satellite jails take time to develop, the Tyson plant (though purchased by this point) was still a topic in 1999. By this time Nichols had retired from the commission and had been replaced by Kevin O'Sullivan. Commissioner O'Sullivan was part of the county commission (along with Wilson and Oberquell) that continued to push for the use of the Tyson plant as a jail. O'Sullivan also currently endorses Edwards.

I can't find anything in the record during those years Edwards speaking up against the Tyson plant purchase. In fact, what I did find was advice by the sheriff's office to move forward despite growing public opposition to the plan.

Here is a portion of county commission minutes that show not only one of Edwards' undersheriffs pushing for the Tyson plant, but also Oberquell.




When it came time to decide whether to purchase the seafood plant that Edward's now criticizes, it was his supporters and employees were at the helm. Also, as county sheriff, he was in a choice position to publicly call out what he says now was a horrible waste of money.

By being vague about it now Edwards seems to hint that the current commission (the longest tenure of which didn't begin serving until 2000) is at fault. But, when you scratch the surface just a little bit, the people now surrounding Gary Edwards first dug the Tyson Seafood plant money pit.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Where an independent dies in Thurston County (part 1 of more than 1 hopefully)



One of my favorite all time posts here is the one I did wrote about a year and half ago about how Bud Blake won in Thurston County.

It's my favorite because it showed something new and interesting to me.

For one, it blew up my idea of political party labels and how voters use them. In fact, I could see, voters really did react to a relabelling of a conservative local politician. In recent years a lot of Republicans have taken well funded runs at sitting Democrats on the county council, but have come up short.

But, Blake won, mostly it seems because he decided to label himself as an Independent and not a Republican. The data seems to bear this out. In almost every precinct, from the most liberal to the most conservative, a portion of voters who would not vote for a Republican would vote for an Independent who happened to be conservative.

Since the start of the new campaign season, I've heard more than a few times from liberal folks up here that: "We won't be fooled again. This time we know Independent means Republican."

There are also two new Independents running for county commissioner who seem like they'd probably be Republicans in another setting. Obviously since one of them used to run regularly as a Republican.

So, my question is, how far out from the central, more liberal, part of Thurston County does this story need to travel before an Independent (really Republican) needs to lose.

Turns out, pretty far.




What I did here was sort precinct results by usually most liberal to most conservative (based on 2012 election results) and started replacing the vote totals from Bud Blake's 2014 campaign with an aggregate for a Republican in 2012.

That's a really rough experiment, but it was an interesting practice. I assumed that the map wouldn't extend much further than the main urban core of the county, but it really did pick up most of the peninsulas (if I can call those neighborhoods that) and some precincts in south county (mostly around and in towns though).

And, here is why I think I can do a lot better than this map. I think turnout is going to have a big part to play. Not only was Blake's party label a factor, but turnout dropped a lot in 2014. For the next post I'm going to play around with trying to find out how an increase in turnout this year will change the dymanic.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

5 reasons Bill Bryant could run as an Independent

It sure is a little (R) up there:



1. Use Bud Blake as a template.

A couple of years back an unknown Independent, with deep support from conservatives throughout Thurston County, upset a sitting county commissioner. How did Bud Blake do it?

Basically, in every precinct in Thurston County, from the most liberal to the most conservative, he used the Independent brand to beat the average Republican vote just two years before. In fact, some of Blake's best returns vs. a stand-in Republican average came in some very liberal districts.

The short lesson of Budd Blake in 2014 in Thurston County: party ID can mean a great deal to voters. And, people like the idea of an independent.

It seemed that there was a group of voters that didn't like the idea of voting for a Republican, but were plenty happy to vote for someone who acted and talked like a Republican, but called himself and independent.

2. Bill Bryant is not locked in as a Republican.

He has until the filing deadline on May 20th to lock in his actual party preference.

3. Bryant could use the Top Two primary to build a financially formidable independent campaign.

And because Washington uses a Top Two primary, Bryant doesn't actually need to be affiliated with a major party to move along. He simply needs to build a financially stable campaign and build his name recognition statewide to get through the primary onto the general election ballot. And, Bryant has raised $1.4 to Governor Jay Inslee's $4 million. So, at least he's in the ballpark.

The problem is timing. The May 20th deadline for filing is just four days before the Presidential primary in Washington State. If Trump is predicted to win the Washington Primary, would Bryant buck the tide of Republican primary voters?

4. Organized Republicans aren't exactly running towards Trump.

The Democratic Party in Washington State ready to tar him with his party's presumptive standard bearer. But, it seems like a lot of Republicans are trying to keep their distance from Trump.

No doubt their reticence was influenced by the polls and prognostications that a Trump candidacy could have a damaging domino effect on them and other GOP candidates. The theory is independent voters will be turned off by Trump and vote for a Democratic president, then continue voting against Republican candidates down the ballot.
An Elway Poll released earlier this month found 55 percent said they would vote against a congressional candidate in Washington who endorsed Donald Trump. 
Although the poll didn’t ask about candidates for state offices, Democratic Party operatives drool at the possibility of a coming landslide of victories in legislative races.
At every opportunity, they are pressing Republican candidates to reveal their presidential choice.
“If you’re a member of the Democratic Party state committee, every Republican candidate’s middle name is Trump,” pollster Stuart Elway said.
Unless of course, Bryant doesn't end up becoming a Republican candidate.

So, possibly Bryant could still raise money from conservatives not hung up on party names. And, even though I doubt the Thurston County Republicans were super happy Bud Blake spurned their party, conservatives in the county still gave him enough to win.

5. The ultimate non-establishment candidate

So, here's the crazy thing, and I admit this doesn't exactly make sense, but what better way to show that you're surfing into the anti-establishment wave by dropping your major party identification? Even when the party is nominating the establishmentarian-in-chief? Bill Bryant is such a rebel, he's going to rebel against the rebel.

Here's one last sort of bonus thought.

Between Republicans, Democrats and Independents, what is the largest political group in Washington?

According to a 2012 poll (I know, four years ago), the largest group is Independents. And, that number has been growing steadily since 2004. They've actually been in first place in Washington State since 2008 and in the mix since the start of the poll period.



More importantly, actual Republicans only made up 23 percent.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Geography of Opportunity for Olympia

If Opportunity for Olympia gets a little less than 5,000 people to sign a petition by the middle of June, we'll be voting on an income tax to fund at least one year free community college tuition.

The income tax would only be levied on households making more than $200,000 a year. So, my immediate reaction was wondering where those rich folks lived in Olympia.

Here is a map of median income  by neighborhood:


This map tells you what neighborhoods are richer, but not necessarily where the households above $200,000 are concentrated.

Here's a map of the top five percent of household incomes across the city.


Because this map slices away the bottom 95 percent and deals only with an average of the top five percent, I think this is a better map of how the geography of the initiative rolls out.

I'll admit, a lot of this map seems counter intuitive to me. While I get the South Capitol and Governor Stevens are obviously the dead center of the top 5 percent in Olympia, that East Bay Drive didn't do better was surprising. 

Also, Holiday Hills being the most rich? Driving through that neighborhood, it seems like a fairly unimpressive collection of split levels. But, at the same time, there might be a few lakeside or near lakeside households that drive that smallish neighborhood up.

Interestingly, if you slice the geography by block group, you come up BG 011710-2, where the highest proportion of plus $200,000 families live in Olympia (though it includes some streets outside Olympia). Again, this is the area surrounding Ward Lake in southeast Olympia.

But, again, the general trend of the south and east of Olympia being where wealth is concentrated.

The problem is being that these are also the neighborhoods where the most people vote

Granted, there's a reason why this initiative in in Olympia, we tend to support school levies (via property taxes). And, so even rich folks voted their pocketbook, they don't hold enough sway to defeat school levies.

I will say this though: I wonder about the psychology of voting for a school levy that supports the district itself and its operations against voting for individual students.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Expanding truth behind why Ritchie Brothers moved to Napavine



One of the best-loved tales about the Thurston County commission is how they "chased" Ritchie Brothers, an auction business dealing in large equipment (cranes, tractors and such) out of the county a few years ago.

I've poked around before looking for evidence of this, but I never really came up with anything. But, the story keeps getting repeated (without much, if any, citation), so I thought I'd dig down into it.

But, what I've yet to find is any sort of smoking gun, any sort of specific example that anyone can point to as the axle upon which this County Commission vs. Ritchie Brothers narrative can turn.

There's not expansion proposed that the county shuts down because of environmental protections. There's no new expensive sewer system. Nothing.

So, let's take a look back where this all begins when the Ritchie Brothers company starts talking about a possible move from Thurston County.

Centralia Chronicle in 2009:
Even with a stumbling economy, businesses and people still show up by the thousands to place their bids. If anything, Cunningham thinks the recession has helped business. 
"Instead of buying new equipment, more people are looking to buy used equipment," she said. 
Things have picked up so much for the auction company at their location off of exit 95 in South Thurston County that they're potentially mulling an expansion to Lewis County, due to some of the possibilities along Interstate 5. 
Unsure of when or where the auction will move to, Giroux is absolutely certain more space is needed than the current location offers. 
"It's not nearly enough room here," Giroux said. "We're bursting at the seams, and we're definitely interested in finding a much larger parcel. But whether we go north or south depends on the property availability." 
And the price, he added.
In the Olympian, a few years later:
Co-founder Dave Ritchie was on hand for Thursday’s grand opening as was current president Rob Mackay. Mackay said the company simply had outgrown the Thurston County site.
Given the opportunity to throw shade, the Ritchie Brothers' folks did not. At every turn when asked, they'd respond: we don't have enough room, we want something larger. While there were likely parcels in Thurston County that could've been big enough, combining one that would've been appropriate for a commercial operation and near Interstate 5 was likely a hard find.

At least from the company itself, you can't find the narrative that Thurston County government was being mean and chased them out.

Once you start looking down in Lewis County after the auction company moved south, you start to see a new narrative form.

Centralia Chronicle, 2012:
“We love Lewis County so far,” Mills said. 
The company moved to the new site right off Interstate 5’s exit 68 from its previous location at Maytown in Thurston County. The new 200-acre facility quadruples the size of the Thurston County site. 
“The county worked with Ritchie Bros. to get them to come here,” said Lewis County Commissioner Ron Averill of Centralia. “We worked hard to make sure we weren’t posing any unnecessary restrictions on them.” 
The county had to rezone the property for commercial use because it sat on agricultural resource land. Ritchie Bros. will now hold five auctions a year in Lewis County. 
Averill said Ritchie Bros. brought about $1 million a year to Thurston County 
“When you consider the county gets one percent sales tax, that’s significant,” Averill said.
Still the Ritchie Brothers company itself is consistent, there was more room (four times the room) for them to operate near Napavine. Being that it's Lewis County too, the land was likely cheaper while still being right next to I-5.

What you do see is a Lewis County Commissioner throw shade north, at least indirectly. Lewis County wanted to make sure they had a smooth landing, see? But, even there, he's not referencing any specific problem Ritchie Brothers had with Thurston County.

If anything, it was the Ritchie Brothers company that hurt the economic possibility of their old site. When they moved on, they placed a deed restriction on the parcels to ensure another auction company wouldn't move in behind them.

From the same 2012 Olympian story:
The Thurston County buyers won’t be offering auction services on the property because of a deed restriction placed on it by RitchieBros., said Troy Dana of Olympia-based Dana Commercial Real Estate. He said his client, which offered auction services but does not compete with Ritchie Bros., declined to bid after learning about the deed restriction. 
“It took away part of the business model,” Dana said. He said his client, an undisclosed out-of-state business, was prepared to bid up to $2.5 million for the three parcels. Instead, the property sold for $1.47 million. 
“That’s the impact of the deed restriction,” Dana said.
But, despite the deed restriction that limited the use of the property, it sold anyway. And, again it became a going concern, pumping money into the Thurston County economy.

And, this is where the entire County Commission vs. Good Business thread falls apart. When you take a drive down I-5 to what was the old Ritchie Brothers site. Instead of laying empty the site is now occupied by a very similar business, Valley Freightliners. While Ritchie Brothers held periodic auctions for used large equipment, Valley Freightliners is a regular dealer in new and used semi-trailer trucks.

If it were true that the Thurston County commissioners were chasing retail large equipment sales out of the county, they were doing a really bad job of it if Freigtliner was ready to move right back in.

Thurston County EDC in 2012:
Initially VFI was searching for land when broker Don Moody of CBRE brought this high visibility site to their attention. Previously owned by Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, VFI purchased a 34 acre parcel along with the existing high bay structures.

"It presented a great location on I-5 with an existing infrastructure that aligns with our needs," said Bernasconi. The location has good access and visibility, along with ample parking. It also has an existing facility that fits the truck dealership model.

Some minor remodeling and basic updates will be done to optimize its use. "We're hoping to get permit approval from the county in the next couple weeks," shared Bernasconi.
I had one one last place to look for a smoking gun. I thought since permitting and land use records are available online, I'd find some sort of file of correspondence between Ritchie Brothers and the county.

Going through the permits and paperwork online at Thurston County, I was only able to find one active project around that same time. Ritchie Brothers was working on a permit for a septic system for a ten person office building and auction yard. You can search through the documents here (use the tax parcel number 12605330400).

From my reading of the permit file of the parcel, activity seems to drop off as Ritchie Brothers start exploring new opportunities in 2009 and then it picks back up when Valley Freightliners moves in three years later.

Either way, if they were looking to get out of the sewer/septic business by heading south, it looks like they're out of luck.

Longview Daily News:
Two multimillion-dollar auctions that were cause for celebration last year now are the cause of a pricey renovation for Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers at its freeway site between Napavine and Winlock. 
The state Department of Health is mandating that the heavy equipment auction company upgrade its onsite sewage system, which could cost up to $70,000. During two auctions last year, the 3,500-gallon septic tank — the size usually used by small commercial businesses — was overwhelmed, said Denise Lahmann, the program and reclaimed water supervisor for the Office of Shellfish and Water Protection at the Department of Health. 
For Lewis County, the costly mistake could become a lucrative new business venture — if the Richie Bros. goes along.
According to the Lewis County Commissioners, Ritchie Bros. has expressed interest in partnering to build a commercial-level sewage system — one the county could use to encourage further development around Exit 68, where Interstate 5 and state Route 12 meet.
And, a letter to the editor in the Centralia Chronicle:
I read your article, in last Saturday’s issue, regarding problems that Ritchie Bros. are having with the State of Washington regarding its current septic sewer system. 
I have been aware, for quite some time, that Lewis County was wasting time and valuable taxpayer funds in an effort to justify a separate and additional “wastewater system” to benefit not only Ritchie Bros., but “potential” development of “new restaurants and hotels” in the Exit 68 area. 
Excuse me, but Ritchie Bros. is in the city of Napavine service area, and service to that facility is within Napavine’s State of Washington approved comprehensive, water and sewer plans. 
Additionally, Napavine has sufficient capacity within its water and wastewater facilities to service the entire Exit 68 area as is indicated in our water and wastewater plans.
It seems to me that Lewis County, rather than working with the city of Napavine, is participating in a naked power grab in the guise of “helping” Ritchie Bros.
And, lastly, if not for some mysterious sewer debacle that has been left unmentioned, what about the impact of Ritchie Brothers leaving Thurston County. Even if the county commissioners did not wage an open war against large scale heavy equipment auction houses, certainly them leaving tanked the county's sale tax receipts.

Maybe even the appearance of Valley Freightliners didn't save the day for the county economy.

But, if you spread out taxable activity in Thurston County from 1995 to 2014 (the most recent annual data available) the Ritchie Brothers impact in nearly invisible. Here's the data I'm working from and here is the source.

But, this chart I think speaks for itself. It tracks taxable sales activity in unincorporated Thurston County by units and total taxable.


Certainly you do see a dip in taxable activity from 2011 to 2012, and possibly that is the time when Ritchie Brothers was wrapping up and Valley Freightliners was coming online. But, there is no blip in the units line, which consistently shoots upwards.

What this chart does show is a steep increase in taxable activity in unincorporated Thurston County since 2008. That's when Sandra Romero was elected. Just in case you're still tracking me.