Nearly 30 years ago, for my masters thesis in The Evergreen State College’s master in public administration program, I wrote about power and influence in Thurston County. I wanted to know who controlled our lives on the local level.
I surveyed most of the elected officials in Thurston County. I asked them to name three individuals – – non-elected – – who had power and influence in their opinion. Then I surveyed all of those named and asked them to name three individuals – – elected or non-elected – – who they felt exerted power and influence at the local level. Then I interviewed many of those named.
Remember – this was nearly 30 years ago – in 1987. Those named included city administrators, the local newspaper editor, minister of a mega-church and a school administrator.
The thesis found that Olympia was a company town. That company was State Government. But, unlike most company towns, the company exerted little influence on the local level. Most leaders has no connection to the community. Top level administrators were on the job temporarily – – four to eight years. They often lived out-of-town and commuted in – – or rented living space for a few short years. They had no interest in local affairs.
That’s not to say that state government employees weren’t involved in the community – – because they were. As time went on, these mid-level administrators began to exert more influence, particularly if they became a local elected official. But, they exerted influence only in the area of their government expertise.
Another finding concluded that power and influence in Thurston County was diffused. There were many concentric circles, with individual exerting influence within one of those circles, but seldom in any other.
When it came to politics, no one person was dominate. However, a group I called the Liberal-Feminist Coalition exerted considerable influence in local politics.
Those are just some of the findings from my 1987 master’s thesis. To my knowledge, no one has since attempted to survey the community to ascertain how things have changed since then.
Who are the power brokers?