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Kochmar, Koppang, and our city of immigrants

How do Republican candidates respond to blatant anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the head of their party?

I’ve taught high school in Federal Way for 11 years. I’ve taught students whose families hailed from all over the world: Samoa, Mexico, Vietnam, Somalia, Kenya, Iran, Korea, The Dominican Republic, India, Haiti, Ukraine. You name it, they’ve been through my classroom. For 11 years, I’ve watched them struggle, grow and shine. Obviously, our city, like our school district, is incredibly diverse. Being close to major business centers in Tacoma and Seattle, yet having far lower housing costs, Federal Way is the perfect place for first-generation Americans to get their start. Their children often stay here. They and their families start businesses here, spend money here, pay taxes here, raise their children here; Federal Way is their home.

Thus, it upsets me when I see the leader of the Republican Party tell duly-elected representatives, women of color, three of whom were born in this country, to “go back” to the countries from which their families originate if they don’t like the direction our country is going.

I see the leader of the Republican Party hold rallies at which his supporters chant “send them back.” I see him giving low-level ICE agents the ability to grab suspected immigrants, demand proof of residency for two years, and should they not be carrying that (because who among us does?), fast-track them for deportation.

I wonder if my students are carrying an electricity bill or some other proof of two-years’ residency in order to keep them from ending up detained and awaiting deportation. I find myself wondering if ICE would ever grab a white guy like myself and question whether I snuck down here from Canada, or if these suspicions are based solely on race.

In short, I see the rising tide of nativism in the Republican Party, kick-started by the president and propped up by many of his most vocal supporters, and all of this makes me wonder about the Republican Party in Federal Way. I wonder about the two Republicans running for City Council: Linda Kochmar, our former representative in Olympia who ran each time as a Republican, and Mark Koppang, who also is a member of the Republican Party.

Now, I realize that the party is not homogenous and that no local politician toes the entire party line unless they’re at a district meeting. I also understand that the Republican Party is undergoing a rapid shift under Trump. I mean, in 2008, the year I came to Federal Way, John McCain’s RNC acceptance speech included the following lines:

“My friends, if you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier, because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.”

That’s a far cry from the current sentiment of, “If you don’t like this country, go back where you came from.” Unfortunately, the latter sentiment would seem to be the official party line these days. So, again, my thoughts come back to the two Republicans running for City Council: Linda Kochmar and Mark Koppang.

I know that council is a non-partisan race, but both candidates are registered Republicans and in a city of immigrants like Federal Way, I feel as though there are some things we need to know about these candidates: How do they respond to the blatant anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the head of their party and many of his supporters?

How do they feel about their party’s insistence that low-level ICE agents should have the right to fast track people they pick up off the street for deportation without even seeing a judge? How far would the president have to go before they felt that they could no longer remain in the party?

I know that Susan Honda, Mark Koppang’s fellow City Council member, started as a Democrat and then switched to the Republican Party; however, she now calls herself an independent. Is she just catching whatever political wind will fill her sails, or did the Republican Party as it now exists do something to cause her to drop her allegiance?

Has it not gone far enough for the others?

What, I wonder, would Linda Kochmar and Mark Koppang say to Federal Way’s immigrant citizens? What would they say to my students who voice growing trepidation at the direction of America’s ruling party? Would the candidates defend the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric?

Would they argue that running on behalf of the party that publicly supports nativism somehow isn’t a support of nativism? Would they deflect the question and talk about the Federal Way Performing Arts Center?

I think that their responses would be interesting at the least, and certainly telling to the voters of Federal Way.

Stephen Austin II

Federal Way

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