Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rhenda Strub Announces Candidacy for State Representative

Above: Rhenda Iris Strub at the Washington State Capitol Building on Sunday. Strub, a former Olympia city councilmember, has announced her candidacy for Washington State Representative, 22nd District, Position #1.

By Janine Gates

In the strange and complicated web of local politics, former Olympia city councilmember Rhenda Iris Strub is on a journey and has announced her candidacy for Washington State Representative, 22nd District, Position #1. 

The position is being vacated by current State Representative Chris Reykdal, who is pursuing the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Strub served on the Olympia City Council from 2008-2011.

Strub arrived in Olympia from South Dakota in 2002, and is married to LOTT Clean Water Alliance executive director Mike Strub. She has a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and worked for many years as an engineering consultant specializing in environmental permitting and compliance. She has four children and lives in the southeast Olympia neighborhood.

She is proud of her accomplishments as a councilmember, and in her interview with Little Hollywood on Tuesday, she specifically mentioned her part in the building of a much needed fourth fire station, city hall, the Hands On Children’s Museum, finding a permanent site for the homeless now called Quixote Village, and the creation of a dog park.

Strub ran for a second term against Nathaniel Jones, but lost. The politics at the time were vicious, and for folks who were involved around that time, Strub’s lack of civility toward community members in written and verbal form, often from her position on the dais, was well known.

Strub explained that her behavior was caused, in part, by her grief in the fact that her youngest son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2008. He is now a student at South Puget Sound Community College.

“I am who I am. I speak my mind and people either love that about me or hate that about me. It’s probably my most prominent characteristic, that I’m plainspoken. It’s my strength and it’s my weakness. It took me time to learn that, when I did that from behind the microphone, the impact was quadrupled. I did not understand that….” said Strub.

Indeed, during our interview, instead of offering a sound bite or two, or a prepared elevator speech about her candidacy, it first took her 20 minutes to explain her role and unpopular vote involving a proposed height rezone of the isthmus area in downtown Olympia in 2008-09. 

Then, Strub struggled to define why she is running for state representative, but said she wants to use her training in science to help inform decisions about the environment and other issues.

As state representative, Strub said her number one priority is to fix the state budget.

“We need to raise taxes, we need an income tax, and I think the wealthy people in this state need to pay more to support the infrastructure and the public employees in this state because nobody got wealthy or stayed wealthy by themselves,” said Strub.

Asked how she will specifically represent the citizens of Thurston County, Strub said that public employees are her largest constituency.

“….Public employees have been mistreated. For eight years, Governor Gregoire balanced the budget on their backs. They took furloughs, they lost pay raises, they paid more for health insurance, and they had to work harder and harder and harder. I think we owe them,” she said.

As a city councilmember, Strub strongly supported keeping Capitol Lake a lake, and supported bills to require the state to manage it as a lake, and not convert it to an estuary. Asked about how she feels about the issue now, Strub said she is reevaluating her position.

“Now I’m intrigued by the idea of an estuary. I’d say my strongest position is, I want the state to do something but they haven’t done a thing.” Strub says she looks forward to the state Department of Enterprise Service’s analysis and recommendation based on science so a final decision can be made.

Regarding the isthmus and the nine story Capitol Center Building, also known as the Mistake on the Lake, Strub said she was in favor as a councilmember for the city to buy and destroy the nine story building, and still holds that opinion.

Strub lamented that the Legislature has taken money from the Public Works Trust Fund, loan money critical to local governments, and the effect of Tim Eyman initiatives.

“The Legislature has an obligation to get out of the way of local governments so local governments can determine their own destiny – it’s the least the state can do after taking away so many revenue streams….”

Strub said she was supportive of a statewide minimum wage increase.

“I’ll carry petitions with me when I doorbell to get that on the ballot.”

Laurie Dolan, former policy director to Governor Christine Gregoire, announced her candidacy for the same position in September 2015, and has garnered a long list of endorsers, including Gregoire. She currently has over $22,000 in the bank, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).

Strub acknowledged that she is concerned about Dolan’s head start.

“It’s daunting. She has an impressive list of advisors. I have broad grassroots experience and connected to this community in a hands-on way. I was on the (Thurston County) Planning Commission, doorbelled the city twice, and have constituents at every level. I understand this community in a way only someone who has served in local government can….”

When asked, Strub mentioned several community members who are supporting her campaign, such as Lacey city councilmember Jeff Gadman, former state representative Brendan Williams, Thurston County Democratic state chairwoman Debby Pattin, and Mike Simmons, President of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 468.

Isthmus Issues Not Too Long Ago

The area of the isthmus in downtown Olympia is still an issue now, but a particular land use case fraught with emotion about eight years ago arose when an Urban Waterfront Rezone and Height amendment to the Comprehensive Plan was under consideration and would be approved by the Olympia city council.

If approved, height increases in that area would increase from 35 feet, and allow buildings on the isthmus of up to 90 feet.

Tri Vo, and his development company, Triway Enterprises, needed the rezone, and declared his intention to build five and seven story buildings, which would include shops and 141 condominiums that, at that time, were proposed to sell for $800,000 to $1 million.

The proposed rezone also included the area occupied by Traditions Fair Trade and other local businesses. The Capitol Center Building, which stands at 108 feet, was not part of Tri Vo’s desires. 

The issue inspired candidates to run for city council, dominated campaign themes and conversations, and strained community relations and personal relationships.

The city’s planning commission held hearings on the proposed rezone amendment. Organizations like Friends of the Waterfront organized community opposition. The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation was formed. The South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH) held a timely, popular public forum about the issue.

Despite massive community opposition, in December 2008, five of the seven councilmembers voted for the rezone, including Strub. At different times in the process, Councilmember Strub also voted against it, but the damage was done. Strub lost her election in 2010 to Nathaniel Jones.

The final outcome? At their first meeting on January 5, 2010, in a democratically choreographed coup of sorts, newly elected councilmembers Stephen Buxbaum, Karen Rogers, and Jeannine Roe led the effort to begin reversing the efforts of the previous council.

With three stunning motions, which all passed, the newly reconstituted council accomplished more for many citizen activists in one meeting than in a whole year of trying to work with the previous council on isthmus-related issues and Triway Enterprises eventually went away.

“It’s democracy at its best, isn’t it? This should give everyone hope that the impossible is possible,” said Bonnie Jacobs of Friends of the Waterfront, after the January 5, 2010 meeting.

Strub Makes Amends and Looks Forward

Strub’s campaign is being managed by a local agency, the Percival Consulting Group, which includes Joe Hyer and Danielle Westbrook.

Hyer was on the council at the same time as Strub, and was part of the effort to oust her from the council. Later, Hyer had his own issues to deal with, and resigned in early 2010. He was replaced by Steve Langer.

Although Strub did not leave the council as friends with Hyer, the two have worked on personal reconciliation issues, and Hyer recently accepted Strub as a client because he considers her to be a viable candidate.
The position of Washington State Representative for the 22nd District, Position #2 is being sought by candidates Beth Doglio and Dylan Carlson, who both announced their intentions in October 2015. Strub said she picked state representative position #1 because she likes Doglio and Carlson very much.

“They have both been involved in community organizing a very long time and for causes I support.” When asked, Strub said she has endorsed Carlson because he was her campaign manager the first time she ran for city council.

Westbrook serves as treasurer for Doglio’s campaign, while Hyer is Carlson’s campaign treasurer.

Doglio has amassed a long list of endorsers and nearly $37,000 in the bank. Carlson has not yet listed endorsers on his website, and has nearly $18,000, according to the PDC. The position is being vacated by Representative Sam Hunt, who is pursuing the Senate position currently held by Senator Karen Fraser, who is pursuing the position of Lieutenant Governor.

At the close of our interview, Strub acknowledged, “I am well aware of my history. Clearly there’s been tension. My ability to move through that is an important part of whether or not I will make a good public servant.”

The issues about the isthmus, Triway Enterprises, and the proposed rezone is well documented by Little Hollywood, starting in 2009. To read more about the history of the isthmus area, the proposed height rezone, Triway Enterprises, and some of Strub’s involvement, go to Little Hollywood, and use the search button to type in key words.

Editor's Note: Corrections to position numbers were made shortly after posting this article.