Thanks to an article in Business Insider, the internet knows Brayden Olson as "Seattle's Christian Grey," a fact that greatly depresses the 29-year-old business-owner currently running for Congress in Washington's 8th district.
Today I talked to him over the phone to discuss his bid for Congress, and also to clear up the Business Insider story, which he thinks was total bullshit.
Before the article came out, he told me he'd granted a couple news interviews addressing the connections readers of 50 Shades of Grey were making between him and the novel's strapping main character. But he says he only agreed to those TV spots under the condition that he could talk about domestic violence, an issue he's been focused on for the last five years. When Business Insider called, he said, he and the reporter talked about domestic violence for the majority of the time, but then at the end she asked him a confirmation question about a kind of car he drove and about whether any women had ever flown to visit him. He confirmed that he drove a BMW with weird doors, and also that a woman at some point in his life had flown to meet him. BI then ran with a story that played up the connections between him and Christian Grey, and the rest was browser history for everyone but Olson.
"From that moment on I lived in a cave," he said. "I spent a couple days not sleeping. I didn’t respond to any other reporter. It was terrifying." After a while he got back on with his life—serving on the board of Runway to Freedom, raising money for LifeWire, volunteering with Jubilee REACH, and starting businesses that create educational games for college students. "It's been tough to have everyone know me for this thing that's not real, and then overlook all these other things that are real," he said.
Now he drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee and, as I mentioned on Monday, he's running for Congress. He's got a bunch of policy proposals he wants to talk about, and we'll get to all that. But first, we've got a campaign video to watch.
In this morning-glow light, Olson walks the streets of Issaquah, a place where he very recently bought an apartment (though, to be fair, he's lived around Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond for a decade), and wonders to himself, "Who's going to save that young millennial on the bench?" Entrepreneurship, that's who. And jobs. And the boy with a dog in the fog. When the gleam travels from the gold rim of his NASA mug to the navy blue bottom of his NASA mug as he stares out the floor-to-ceiling windows of his Bellevue HQ, you know he means business for America, and for new our galactic empire.
For all the cheeseball imagery and dry-fit technology on display in that video, Olson isn't lying about the dim future of cash-strapped, debt-saddled, godless millennials. The apocalyptic vision he lays out—one where robots work 38 to 47 percent of the jobs we have now, one where where retirement is a sad joke, one where getting sick means dying bankrupt—is very fucking correct, as most millennials know.
But like any politician with "B.O." as their initials and a field of grain in their logo, Olson's hopeful he can make a change.
Though some of the copy on his website—especially the stuff related to health care—reads like a gauzy mission statement folderol, his three featured policy pages address these huge problems in serious ways. An idea like suspending or forgiving student debt for people who want to start a business sounds pretty good. As does opening up the region for more wind farms and solar panels, despite the fact that those industries don't exactly bring in tons of longterm jobs. And in case Olson wasn't millennial enough for you, he's promising to create an accountability app. "I will be providing an application to download free of charge that will notify you every time I make a vote in an area you select that you care about," he writes. "You will also have a chance to tell me what you think, and I will send back a notification to everyone on why I made the vote I did."
Over the phone he speaks extremely enthusiastically about education and creating jobs. "We're about to face the largest economic crisis we’ve ever faced before," he said, citing the decreasing employment, a shrinking middle class, lowering home-ownership among young people, etc. "This is happening, it’s not an opinion," he said. To stem the tide he wants to create tax incentives that make it easier for young people to start businesses, allow for equity crowd funding, and invest in retraining programs and technical schools that focus on clean energy.
His voice rises in pitch and intensity when he begins to talk about education. He believes the country needs to subsidize tuition for two- and four-year colleges, and he "can't believe we don't talk about the federal government lowering subsidies for public schools instead of raising taxes" to pay for them.
"We’ve seen tuitions go through the roof!" he said. "We’ve created a huge, specific tax on the students and the families who are pursuing higher education. This is fundamentally wrong. The fact that we live in a country where families have to go into massive debt to send their kids to college is...," at this point Olson realizes he's kind of yelling into the phone and lowers his voice, "is falling short of our promise of what this country is about," he concluded.
The issue hits close to home for Olson. Both his parents taught in public schools, and he said he could only afford to attend Seattle University by taking advantage of the Running Start program, overloading all of his classes, working through summer quarter at the school cafeteria, and graduating in 18 months.
He supports a nationalized healthcare system as "both the correct moral and economic choice" for the country. "It saves us money, it creates jobs, and it’s the morally right thing to do," he said, adding, "I don’t even know how it’s a partisan issue other than there’s a lot of special interest involved," referring to the current "oligopoly" of health insurance companies.
As for police brutality: he's against it. Olson is "100 percent in support of everything we can do to reduce police brutality." He says "there’s a culture of good cops defending bad ones—that’s a culture we have to stop," and that "we also have to do a better job of finding police within the communities we’re serving." He also likes body cameras and wants to de-escalate the militarization of the police force while at the same time better compensating cops.
Does a woman have a right to choose? "Absolutely."
Should we fund Planned Parenthood? "Yes."
"Those are choices for individuals, for families, and for communities. It’s not for the government to get involved and tell a woman what her choice is," Olson said.
He's "pro-immigration and pro-immigrant" and thinks that xenophobic legislation may die out as "the millennial generation gets into positions of leadership and authority."
Olson mentions the word "millennials" so often I began to think he was either nervous about his age and trying to get out in front of it.
"There’s a thought that Millennials are entitled or lazy, and I think this is a perfect opportunity to ask folks of older generations to send us work," he said. "I’ve been working 12-16 hour days for as long as I remember, and I am so ready to continue doing that in Congress."