Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Coke is the Real Thing, Pt. 1

Joshua Coke is a 22-year old full-time WSU student who plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program in Psychology next year. He also works for WSU Student Computing Services as a Systems Manager. Coke is originally from Auburn, WA, but has bought a house in town and now calls Pullman home. He running for the city council, Ward 1, Position 7 against Bill Paul, the incumbent, and Gary Johnson, a write-in candidate.

Back on August 7, in describing the Ward 1 council race, I speculated that Joshua Coke might be a member of PARD. It seemed to fit PARD's general strategy at the time. Ultimately, I didn't know very much at all about Joshua other than where he worked and where he went to school. He was the "wild card" in the race.

I am quite happy to report that I was wrong about him. He has absolutely no affiliation with PARD. In fact, just the opposite.

A candidate profile of Coke appeared in yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Some excerpts:
"I wanted to get involved with local government instead of being one of the many students who comes and goes."

When Coke heard Pullman finance director Troy Woo say the city reserve fund could be negative in a few years, he was inspired to become a voice in favor of economic development.

"I wanted to have a voice. I think it's a problem that most people I know go over to Moscow, Lewiston, or even Spokane for their day-to-day needs."

In Coke's view, the key to economic expansion is growing the city's retail base so that more amenities are available for residents...[he] wants to preserve the small-town atmosphere that makes him want to call Pullman his home.

"I like the feel of this town. That's why I decided to stay. It's not too big, not too small."

If elected to the council, Coke believes he will bring an open mind, particularly when it comes to listening to the needs of local business owners.

Coke also would like to show the community many students are responsible citizens.

"I want to show I do care about the community and a lot of us want to have a positive voice. I'm a younger person. The majority of town is populated by students during the year. It's important for them to have a voice in city gvoernment."
It turns out that Mr. Coke is a reader and supporter of this blog. I asked him some additional questions about his candidacy and he graciously agreed to answer them:

Q: In your candidate profile, you mention that growing Pullman's retail base is the key to economic expansion. Does this mean that you support the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter?
A: The short answer is that yes, I do support the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter. However, I feel that this is a very complicated and sensitive issue that is difficult to distill to a simple yes or no answer. Pullman is a unique community and I agree that it is important to preserve the comfortable small town feel that those of us who are permanent residents love so much. At the same time, however, we need to acknowledge the fact that this city is growing rapidly and that residents are having to leave not only the city but often the state in order to have their needs met. So it becomes a delicate balance of trying to accommodate the demands of the community and account for growth without disturbing the qualities that make the city such a great place to live. The fact of the matter is that the city of Pullman needs more retail options and the associated tax revenue. While the construction of a Wal-Mart will help to alleviate these problems, it is also important to consider the fact that they are a somewhat controversial retailer and that there are a significant number of people who are strictly opposed to them both as a community presence and as a corporation. How do we, as a community, please residents on both sides of the line? Furthermore, how do we accurately measure support or opposition? I believe that we must remain open-minded and consider the arguments from all those wishing to contribute to the discussion rather than just the opinions of extremely vocal special interest groups or individuals. After reading and listening to arguments from those both for and against the Pullman Wal-Mart, I personally believe that the potential economic benefits and increased consumer choice outweigh the negative attributes of Wal-Mart’s presence.
Q: Why do you feel that your comments about Wal-Mart were left out of your candidate profile? Have you perceived an anti-Wal-Mart bias in the Daily New coverage?
A: I don’t feel that the Daily News was expressing a bias against Wal-Mart by excluding my comments about them. Michelle and I discussed a number of topics during the interview, and I feel that she did a good job of condensing my comments into the available space. The purpose of the article was to give a brief profile of each candidate as well as a few of their key views. I talked at length about the importance of expanding the retail base to meet the demands of the community, which is a much bigger issue encompassing more than just a single retailer. While I would have liked for my specific comments on the Wal-Mart situation to have been included, I still feel that I got my point across and am pleased with the final product.
Q: Do you think other city council candidates have been dodging the Wal-Mart issue, and if so, why?
A: That’s an interesting question, and frankly I’m not certain of the answer. As I stated earlier, the Wal-Mart situation is controversial and people seem to be rather divided on the issue. Thus, I can understand not wanting to alienate and anger a large portion of your constituency who may not agree with your statements. In my particular case, my Wal-Mart comments were omitted from the Daily News article so it may very well seem that I was attempting to dance around the issue rather than discuss it frankly as I did. Whether or not the issue is intentionally being avoided, I couldn’t say for certain.
Q: WSU students have played a significant role in the current Wal-Mart debate. The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development(PARD), which is opposing Wal-Mart, has many student members. Also, a petition pledging not to shop or work at Wal-Mart has been circulated by PARD. That petition contains thousands of student signatures. Many Wal-Mart supporters in the community feel that student opinion on Wal-Mart is irrelevant, as they are just temporary residents of Pullman. A student that opposes Wal-Mart could be replaced next semester by one that does. As a student yourself, what is the vibe you get on the Wal-Mart issue from your fellow classmates? Will students stay away from Wal-Mart in droves, as they have promised? Or is this yet another example of misplaced campus idealism?
A: When discussing the issue of Wal-Mart amongst my classmates, coworkers, and friends, opinions are rather divided yet leaning more toward opposition than support. Now, I feel that it is important to distinguish between private and public opinion in this case. As you have mentioned in your own commentary, it seems that those in favor of Wal-Mart are reluctant to say so publicly. When discussing the issue in groups, most people I know will express staunch opposition to big business and Wal-Mart in particular, arguing that its presence would decimate the community. However when speaking one on one or in smaller groups, the same people will admit to shopping at Wal-Mart in Moscow and that if a Wal-Mart were to be constructed in Pullman, they would likely shop there instead. On Friday I had a discussion about this issue with 8 of my coworkers, all of which were students. Initially, they all vehemently expressed disdain for Wal-Mart. Yet, when I asked them to raise their hand if they had bought anything from the Moscow Wal-Mart in the past two weeks, there wasn’t a single unraised hand. So where is the disconnect there? I have a hard time believing that people who will drive 7 miles to patronize the Wal-Mart in Moscow will actually boycott the proposed Pullman Wal-Mart. Bear in mind that this is merely anecdotal evidence and my own circle of acquaintances may have radically different opinions than the rest of the student population. In regards to the suggestion that student opinion should be discarded since they are temporary residents, I strongly disagree. Regardless of the duration of their stay in Pullman, students still comprise a significant portion of the population and as members of this community their voices should be heard and opinions considered. To trivialize the views of a particular demographic, especially such a large one, I believe to be highly irresponsible. Yes, the student population tends to be more liberal and idealistic, which as you mentioned, may account for their large representation in groups like PARD. Whether or not students will actually boycott a Pullman Wal-Mart is hard to say. I’m sure that some will vote with their wallets and frankly, I’d be glad to see them do so. Nobody is attempting to force you to shop at a particular establishment, and if you have a philosophical opposition then by all means make that known by shopping elsewhere. While student opinions may be idealistic, I would disagree with labeling these ideals as being misplaced. I’m glad that students take an interest in the community and are making their opinions on Wal-Mart known. Some have made excellent arguments both for and against, so regardless of my position on the subject I’m pleased to see the fairly constant discussion on the campus.
To be continued...


Ray Lindquist said...

EXACT number of full-time PULLMAN RESIDENTS whose signature appears on the petition
YES we need to see this I saw them getting signatures from students on WSU campus witch at best those will be here maybe 4 yrs before they move on to some city that is "growing". I would love to see the list if not just a count, it can't be much of FULL TIME residents.

teh_baumer said...

Don't bite the hand that feeds you. Josh here has proven that students can take active roles, and shape the course of this fair berg. Underestimate the student population (many of whom stay longer than 4 years to persue advanced degrees), and you underestimate the creative, talented youth that will soon decide the fate of this nation in larger arenas than just the Pullman City Council.