Small-town corruption, uniting the wet and dry sides through economics, and beer parties in the Palouse.
I’m just settling in as Crosscut’s new Central Washington Reporter based in Yakima, but as is clear from my first three pieces, there is a myriad of political, cultural, environmental and data stories to be unraveled east of the Cascades.
When I started to meet with Wapato residents about their grievances with former mayor Juan Orozco, it quickly became apparent that these testimonies weren’t your average small-town concerns. Frances Ayres, who ran for one of the city council positions in the latest election, handed me a thick packet on Orozco. A group of citizens had collected (and carefully photocopied or printed) every news clipping on Orozco from many years past. Her son, Patrick Ayres, had taken it upon himself to file public records requests on Orozco. They were so concerned that they became citizen journalists.
I spent three weeks talking with residents, attending city council meetings, digging through court records and trying desperately to reach Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa and Orozco for an interview. I spent a lot of time on the Wapato story because it’s about more than just the Yakima region — rural communities across Washington are mirrored in Wapato’s problems. The less populous central and eastern Washington areas deserve quality time and meticulous reporting.
I’ll be travelling around the region wherever the stories take me. The relationships I built in Wapato are just the beginning of a long-term commitment to my fellow easterners. Here’s to rural towns, bridging the East-West divide, the clinking of pint glasses and much more.