Behind the upset: Kim Golding’s Powerful Story
by Lynda Foster
The weekend before the primary elections I met Golding at 8:00 am at Forza on 12th and Union to interview her for this article. I really enjoyed our discussion. Golding shared her personal stories with me, her rather difficult struggles and how she eventually triumphed over them. I found it really compelling. The more I heard her talk, the more certain I became that she was exactly the sort of candidate (and current incumbent) who should have no problem making it through the primary. Before our interview even started I made the mistake of saying that I was in no rush to write this article, seeing how I was confident that it could wait for the general.
Silly, silly me.
Golding came in third in the primary, which is pretty much the closest thing you can get to a political upset when there are only two races on the ballot. The news was especially harsh when you consider that Golding was one of the two candidates (out of four) who bothered to actually campaign in her race. She lost by 65 votes to Kim Washington, who had pulled out of the election earlier, citing family reasons.
Needless to say, I was surprised. I thought about the race, and its results, a lot, but will spare you the majority of extreme political wonkiness that occurred between me and my fellow local politicos as we discussed the causation of Golding’s defeat.
What is more relevant to this article, however, is that the next weekend I sat down and transcribed Golding and my conversation (and yes, then I waited a very long time to write about it). As I was listening to what Golding had to say, I was again inspired by her story.
It started at a young age, when she was faced with challenges that many kids today still struggle with:
“When I was in first and second grade, I was starting to get bullied a lot and beat up at school. And you go home and you cry, and you tell your mom you had a bad day at school, and your mom gives you these really interesting suggestions on how to deal with it, and it never seems like something I would want to do, and if I went back and tried what she said, it would only make things worse.”
“That was in one situation, and then I get into a different school in a different place and an entirely different state, and again I struggled, I had trouble fitting in… It was the beginning of experiences that were similar but in different places. By the time I got into high school I was kind of used to being different.”
Then later, she faced a difficult home life and economic situation:
“I struggled as a young teenager when my parents’ marriage was falling apart. I was taking a lot of blame for it. There was beatings, and there was emotional abuse, and put-downs, and telling you that you’re never going to amount to anything, and all you’re going to be is ‘blankedy blank’. My parents were in a frustrated place because they couldn’t do what other parents in the area may be able to do, and they’d tell you so. So it set up this hopeless environment of you’re never going to make it and you’re not going to graduate from college.”
And she tried to do what many kids try to do in similar situations:
“When I was 15 my grandmother tried to adopt me, and my parents said absolutely not… This happened kind of as a result of me just walking out one day. I just started planning my move, I started moving my personal belongings out, that meant something to me, one by one, and taking them to friend’s house and leaving them there. Then one day it was like this is the day I’m not going to stay, and I left.”
“Then my high school found out that I wasn’t living anywhere legally and I had no one legally responsible for me, because I was in limbo, and they were saying, ‘we can’t let you be here’. I had a wonderful teacher who went to the principal’s office with me and said, ‘this is an A, B student who wants to be here. There are C, D, F students out in the park that you try to drag back into class who don’t want to be in school, and you’re trying to kick out the A, B student, where’s the sense in that?’ And the school decided to look the other way and let me continue.”
“So I’ve gone through stuff that make me seriously appreciate a lot of the challenges that young people still have in today’s world. When people talk about struggling students and the dropout rate and the problems with kids who fall behind in school and decide that they have no chance of getting caught up, and why bother, and just need to be working and making money because no one’s taking care of them, it’s really real to me… I’ve gone through stuff that really connects to those kids, and they stay in mind when people talk about how bad the dropout rate is, or whatever. I’m always thinking I know what that’s like and it’s not just numbers to me and it’s not just like I’m watching TV and seeing things happen for the first time. I’ve lived some of what these kids go through.”
Sure, this is a highly edited and rearranged transcription of the story, but the words and the story are completely Golding’s, and after hearing it there is no doubt that she’s not only passionate about education, but also about the real world struggles facing Tacoma’s students.
Golding had a second story that I also found compelling, about how she got involved with the PTA, and took on leadership roles within her community. As Golding says:
“I have this fun story about how we would get the PTA to … the PTA had newsletters…”
“I’d sit and read the summaries of meetings that [the PTA] had, meetings that they’re going to have, activities across the school. And I’m like, ‘It’s the same people all the time. I always see the same people.’ I was just kind of showing up the school to pick up the kid, leaving, feeling like I’m coming and going without really knowing what was going on, other than the newsletter.”
“But that whole idea that it was always the same names. I kinda kidded myself and thought, ‘I need to infiltrate, I need to get in there, and change that.’ So it wasn’t just to get me into that PTA group and get to know people and have a roll for myself, but also to change that culture to more reaching out and finding new people to bring in.”
“I thought I knew what it was like to be an outsider looking in, and I needed to get in and pull some of those outsiders in, and that was my role I took on is to kinda change it… What I really liked doing was finding the parents who were just standing in the hallway waiting for the class to get out, and striking up a conversation telling them about the PTA and what we did, and wouldn’t they like to be involved with this project, like a book swap or a carnival, the book sale, or you know. So I helped grow that PTA, and infiltrated in the process.”
“When I was involved with city PTA for the first time, I could kind of see where it was dwindling in participation and enthusiasm. It kind of had a cloud over it, in that, this is how it is and this is just how it’s going to be. Having had some very positive experiences in the elementary school PTA settings, I kind of knew what it might take to turn it around. So, on my own as a secretary of the city-wide PTA, I was kind of regularly calling up the individual school PTA leaders and check in with them and say ‘There’s a meeting coming up, I’d really like to see you there. While you have me on the phone, is there anything you think you need to know, or want to know about how to deal with a problem or whatever.’ And it’s funny, because you’d get the really quick response of ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve got it handled, and thanks for letting us know about the meeting, I’m not sure if anyone’s going to be there.’ And then you’d find about two or three minutes later, ‘Oh, I guess I do have something I could ask about.’ and it would turn into like a half an hour conversation.”
“It was a huge investment of my time, but by the time I was elected president of that council we suddenly had regular members, and people who were willing to take on leadership roles at the city level, and people who understood what it was about, and how they were supporting each other, and supporting the city wide PTA and the individual ones by having this umbrella over all of them as a resource. People who’ve done it before, and can tell you what they’ve done to raise money or something you may not have tried before. That was kind of a project I took on on my own… there was no label to it, nobody saying you need to help us make it happen, but I just saw the value in restoring… But I felt really good after serving as president … and turning it over to the next group of leader so that they had something really good to work with.”
Again, this story is edited and re-arranged by me (and really needs even more editing), but with a little work, Golding could use it to show everyone how being bullied and having a troubled life as a youth inspired her to create the most inclusive PTA in the city. She could talk about finding her voice (which she did talk to me about some) by working hard to bring people together to support the community and children in need, so that other kids don’t have to go through what she went through. From a campaign messaging point of view, she could tie all of this into the anti-bullying work she did as a PTA leader and a Tacoma School Board member. That could have been her thing. (Anti-bullying is very popular right now, and can really be stretched out to include a lot of other key issues. From a campaign point of view, that’s huge).
I suppose my point of all of this, is that while I knew nothing about her when I walked into the interview, I really liked her when I left. I really enjoyed hearing her story, and kept thinking that she should be a real contender.
But you know that thing about hindsight. That clarity thing. That thing about how when you have it, it’s easy to see how things didn’t go the way you expected. Yeah, hindsight changes everything; and through its lens I re-listened to my conversation with Golding, and while transcribing it I bolded two parts that immediately stood out to me. The first, when I asked her to tell me about herself:
“And really a lot of what I do comes from that entire experience, but in the process of going through that and becoming the person I am, you also find out it’s not about you.”
The second, when I asked what it is like to be judged as a candidate:
“And they [everyone] don’t know me. And I feel bad because sometimes you go to a candidate forum or you answer questions for a reporter, and sometimes they’re just not getting to know you because the questions aren’t right. They’re asking about things that don’t show how you can shine in the community or how you’ve made a difference or how you still can. People are asking about what matters to them but it just doesn’t give you the opportunity to show, you know, something positive about you. I’ve felt really disappointed walking away from something like that. Where you’re just going, wow, if they’d only asked me about this, or if they only knew this, if I had a chance to spend 20 minutes on this topic instead of only the two minutes they gave me to answer the question. They’d get to understand a lot better where my passions are at, where my drive comes from, or what it is I know I can do based on what I have done.”
I remember quite clearly hearing Golding say these two things when I interviewed her. I remember that they contradicted each other, and that it bugged me. I remember thinking that as a candidate it is your responsibility to create your message and get it out to the people, and that if you’re failing to do that it is your fault.
Golding had spent the entire interview telling me a really powerful personal story, and then at the end she complained that no one else had come to hear to listen to it. I don’t know if she could have possibly beaten Karen Vialle in the general (Karen got 53% of the primary vote, she’s a campaign machine), but the reason that she didn’t get the chance was because she was not telling people about herself.
Near the end of the interview Golding had told me:
“I recognize that people don’t really get much of a chance to get to know me. I don’t put up walls, but I simply don’t have the time to spend with people to give them that chance. You’re getting quite a window open here! Because most people don’t get to see that or have those conversations.”
I’m glad I sought out the chance to have those conversations with Golding, and I’m glad that I made it easy for her to talk for twenty minutes about whatever she wanted. However, future candidates, let this be a lesson to you. You can’t wait for others to seek you out. You can’t rely on reporters or folks in charge of candidate forum to set you up to talk about whatever you want. You have to create the message you want to tell people, and then you have to go and get it out there. You have to take responsibility for your own messaging, and not let anyone hear anything else. If you don’t, no matter how great a potential candidate you are or how compelling of a personal story you have, you’re not going to stand a chance.
Fun facts about Kim Golding: