Saturday, November 19, 2022

Some maps to help you understand the November 2022 General Election in Thurston County

1. Sanders won the Sheriff's race leaning on urban voters, but...

Here are Sanders' results in raw numbers. Blue he did better, and red worse. This is the prototypical Thurston County partisan map. Democratic candidates tend to do better and run up the score in the urban areas, and try to tamp down their losses in the rural precincts.

This is the map of taking Sanders' percentages and taking away partisan ballot headliner Senator Patty Murray. What this map shows is though Sanders used the core of Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey to beat Snaza, he underperformed the top-of-the ticket Democrat to do it. Importantly to his win, he outpaced her in the rural areas.

Most importantly (and I think key to his win), there is a band of precincts close to the urban growth boundary where not only did he win the majority of the votes, but he outpaced Senator Murray.

2. The proposals to expand the county and port commissions passed, but exposed differences in opinion between the two bodies. 

First, the results from the county proposition:

And then the thinner, but also successful map, for the port. Same pattern, same broad victory. Just, thinner.

Both of the maps show the same general pattern we usually see, urban Thurston County voting one way, and then the further out of town you get, people vote another. What I was always curious about in this race is where the county did better than the port and vice versa.

In the map above, green areas saw more Port support vs. the County. But because the port was underwater vs. the county in all but half a dozen precincts, most of the green precincts are places where the county actually pulled more votes. I just did it this way to show variation. Doing it plus/minus 50 percent for each just showed a lot of pro-county areas. 

It is an open question whether these results are more about the county's reputation or the ports. But it is worth pointing out the cluster of green precincts (pro-port or anti-county) around Hawks Prairie and the Yelm area.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

What a map of taxes-by-acre in Thurston County teaches us about downtown Olympia

This is a map of election results in Thurston County. It shows a fairly typical result by precinct. More liberal candidates (in this case Joel Hanson in last year's port race) doing well in the urban core and more conservative candidates (Amy Evans) doing well in rural areas.

This is a map of property taxes by acre on the parcel level in Thurston County:

Generally speaking, these are the same patterns. The same places that tend to vote for more conservative candidates also pay less property taxes per acre. This isn't exactly a new concept. Strong Towns, for example, pays a lot of attention to this concept of density paying off for local government finances. Their analysis goes even further and connects a simple tax by acre analysis (which I am doing) and brings in the cost of supplying services to low density rural and suburban areas, which is higher than urban, high density neighborhoods.

Here are a few closer looks, to see how the basic property tax by acre phenomena works.

Here is downtown Olympia:

Not only are the vast majority of the parcels blue (relatively high value), there are a lot of dark blue lots (the highest value category). The red areas in downtown Olympia are un-taxed public places like the Port of Olympia, the Capitol Campus and other government owned parcels. They aren't a good counter-example against the phenomena we're exploring here, they are just an illustration of the financial impact of being a state capitol.

Zooming out to Olympia overall now:

Lots of lighter blue, and most of the deeper blue is either newer developments or nodes of density around lower density, single-family neighborhoods. 

Now Lacey:

The thing that stands out here to me is the older core of Lacey is mostly lighter blue. 

Now the big map for me, the Rochester/Grand Mound area:

Even though this portion of Thurston County contains a large swath of suburban development on the way to Lewis County, most of the parcels are fairly low value by acre. According to the analyses I linked to above, these areas are more expensive to maintain, but produce less property taxes.

We're familiar with this concept on a macro scale (donor states and counties), but it is interesting to see how this phenomenon exists on even the micro-neighborhood level. 

And how does this take us back downtown? This is just another example of how the multifamily tax exception is not that bad of an idea, policywise. A little while back, I did a back of the napkin analysis of how in a very short amount of time, the multifamily tax exemption would start paying dividends financially. The logic is that once the exemption is over, the increased value of the taxed parcel would be vastly more than the previously undeveloped version. By my figuring, it would only take seven years for the improved parcel to pay off the money lost in the exemption. And in the long run, it would a massive financial benefit. Allowing the parcel to stay a parking lot would be the actual drain.

What the tax-by-acre parcel map shows is that the talking point of "existing taxpayer subsidizing downtown high-rises" is a falsehood. On any scale, less dense neighborhoods are "paid for" by denser, more productive ones. The majority of existing Olympians (especially the ones that show up to city council to complain about density) live in unproductive single-family neighborhoods. The subsidy goes the other way around. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

In response to "In Defense of Priest Point Park"

In the debate over renaming Priest Point Park to Squaxin Park, David Nicandri has written "In Defense of Priest Point Park." I'm glad David's thoughts were finally posted. I had heard through the grapevine that he had come to a position counter to honoring the wishes of the Squaxin Island Tribe. His long-time work in local and statewide history makes his opinion worth weighing. 

That said, I want to offer some counterweight to his post. 

In the blog post below, I rely on David's own "Olympia's Forgotten Pioneers," a history of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) in Olympia.

First off, setting the stage for the arrival of the Oblate Father Pascal Ricard in Olympia, Nicandri leaves out important context. First, he says coming to North America from France was against Ricard's wishes. This is true, but because he was in ill health. The OMI was primarily a missionary order, so being sent overseas was not something a member of the OMI order wouldn't expect.

Much of Nicandri's post contextualizes the relationship between the priests in Olympia and the territorial government during the Puget Sound and treaty wars. You would think that, after reading David's post, that the OMI priests were working counter to the government of Isaac Stevens and for the tribes. But, even Nicandri's own book paints a much more complicated picture.

The relationship was more cordial than that. Each side realized the benefit of the other. During the treaty work at Walla Walla, he writes, "The OMI and Stevens were virtually a team; both told the Indians to listen to and obey the other."

At best, the priests were complicit in the work of the territorial and military leaders to force the tribes to sign treaties and move them onto reservations. The work being done by missionaries like the OMI priest made the tribes much more likely to also do the wishes of the secular government. 

On one occasion, Ricard inscribed "we have always said to the Indians, do not aggravate the Americans and they will not both you. If someone hurts you, complain to the authorities... even to the governor himself, and you will be rendered justice," although he knew the Indians were not receiving it.
Granted, the relationship between the American population and the OMI priest in Olympia was not always cordial. Because of their closeness to the tribes (and likely just plain old anti-foreign, anti-Catholic bigotry), white people in Olympia felt threatened by the priests. But at the end of the day, the American territorial government and the OMI priests were partners in the cultural damage done to the tribes.

Lastly, I want to address the broader thoughts Dave brings up earlier in his piece.
The most grievous was the hubris of cultural superiority, originating in the ethos of his time and civilization. This pattern was so common that Pope Francis is coming to North America this year in recognition of this Truth in the interest of Reconciliation.

Before we judge Ricard too severely, forbid that any of us should be judged for our actions by the standards of some future posterity.

This is exactly how we should be judged. And this is the entire reason I study history. It is cliché to say that thing about repeating history when you don't learn it well enough. And I don't think it's an extreme statement that we still have a lot of divergent ideas about the place of religious minorities in America.

Nicandri's "judged by our current actions by a better future" is a tamed down version of "if we pull these statues down, we'll forget our history." There is a big difference between honoring something by naming a park after it or building a statue and "forgetting history." We don't build statues to assassins, for example, but we do include them in our history. We aren't taking "Olympia's Forgotten Pioneers" out of the library and burning it. We are simply showing that we have a better understanding of history because we no longer want to honor religious colonialism. 

While what could be done to help Indian people in the 1850s may have been morally complex to French priests, we have the luxury of clearer vision. Nicandri in "Olympia's Forgotten Pioneers":

One might cynically suggest that Ricard was a contributor to the deculturalization of a whole people. But he and all the OMI realized the futility of the Indian struggle and tried to temporize the effect of white supremacy as best they could.
Ignoring the impacts of missionary work on deculturalization, we today don't have to see the actual request from an existing sovereign tribal government to rename a park as futile. 

We don't have to temporize the impacts of white supremacy.  We can fight it.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

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.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

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.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Four questions from the last election in map form (Fall 2021 edition)

 1. Did Talauna Reed's strategy of encouraging voting in high density apartment complexes work? 

2. Why did Reed get a post-primary bounce in SE Olympia?

And, it is more than the bottom line result that she did not win. When I look at the maps, she didn't move the needle in the neighborhoods with large apartment buildings. I had seen this approach being promoted on social media, and I was incredibly interested to see if it would work (in a winning result) or move the needle (by improving her returns in neighborhoods with more large apartment buildings).

First off, here is the map for her overall vote percentage:

Her best precincts were basically on the Eastside north of the highway and on the near-in Westside. Only one of these precincts (the blue one furthest west) has a collection of larger apartment buildings. 

Since I heard about the approach to focus on larger apartment buildings after the primary, I think looking at the change in raw votes and percentage change would be important. This is especially true since the primary finished very close between Lisa Parshley, Reed and Wendy Carlson. This meant that Carlson's large number of voters (for someone who didn't advance) were up for grabs.

First, here is the percentage change:

And here is the raw number of votes change:

And here you might start seeing a pattern with higher turnout with apartment dwellers. On the far Eastside by the hospital and down South of Ken Lake there might be some movement. 

But what is also consistent in these two maps in the handful of SE Olympia precincts where overall Reed did not do well. They also had large movements toward her during the primary to general shift. These are places where Carlson had a lot of votes to give up after she didn't make it through the primary. And despite not doing well, Reed picked up a fair amount of votes.

3. What is the meaning of the weirdest countywide map I have ever seen?

Eight years ago, I thought I'd seen the weirdest map ever when Sue Gunn won both extremely rural and conservative precincts and urban and liberal precincts. 

For a reference of how a Thurston County results map should look like, look at the Amy Evans/Joel Hanson for Port Commission map. Hanson is in blue, Evans in red.

Here you see the traditional urban to rural way these maps are organized. Hanson does better in the urban center of Olympia, while Evans does better in the rural areas and builds in towards Olympia. The battleground are the suburban belts around Olympia, including Lacey, Tumwater and a bit further out. From this map, you can see Evans won this by limiting Hanson's precincts to largely inside Olympia.

But, would someone please explain to me this? This is the Bob Iyall (blue) and Jesse Simmons (red) race for Olympia Port Commission: 

As normal, Iyall did do pretty well in the middle of the map. And, if you told me that Iyall did really well in Olympia, but Simmons bossed all of Lacey, I would have said this map was a lot closer than what it was. Here, it seems like it is the rest of the county vs. Lacey. I have never seen a map in Thurston County where a candidate does really well in Lacey and isn't able to translate that into better results elsewhere in the suburban belt or either in the urban core of Olympia or out in the rural areas.

4. Why did the right lane candidates have such varied success across the map?

I didn't want to do election results maps for the other city of Olympia races, because they all seemed to follow the same pattern of conservative candidates doing well on the far Westside and SE Olympia  and the eventual winners doing well everywhere else. I did do Reed's race because as the only one left in the progressive lane, she was unique. 

Well, what I did do was map the precincts won by any or all of the candidates in the right-hand lane. Candi Mercer didn't win any precincts, so she's not on this map.

The three remaining (Weigand, Kesler and Gauny) won several precincts in SE Olympia together. Weigand and Kesler then combined to win a couple more on the SE side and on the far Westside (both traditional conservative-for-Olympia territory). Kesler then won two on her own, both on the edges of town. Weigand in blue then picked up the rest of SE Olympia and the far Westside. He also won an inside precinct that includes the East Bay Harbor condominiums. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

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.