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Political Mercury

Mirror, mirror on Tyler Olson’s wall


Is Tyler Olson running a gubernatorial campaign or life-synching his way through a Hall and Oates song?

“Leave me alone, I’m a family man…” (Of course, vote for me, before extending the politeness of privacy.)

Tyler Olson

Tyler Olson

The leading edge of Olson’s image campaign is an unabashed self-fashioning as The Family Man.

Like the websites for other political candidates, the Democratic Terrace Hill aspirant’s Internet presence opens with the hustle: Sign up here to get the daily drip, drip of Tyler Triumphs in your email inbox.


When visitors to Olson’s site navigate past the entrance to some semblance of substance, they are hit first — “#1” says — with a photo of the beaming white faces of his young family. They are such the picture of Iowa-ness that you can see why the United States Army shoved all the Indians to places like the banks of Missouri River in Monona County.

“Tyler is a sixth-generation Iowan, born and raised in Cedar Rapids. He and his wife, Sarah, have two young kids, Leo and Willa,” the Olson for Governor website enthuses. “Leo wants to be a police officer when he grows up, and you don’t want to get into a jelly bean eating contest with Willa.”

Gee, what a swell family, Wally.

But pictures don’t always say a thousand words — at least not honest ones.

Leo and Willa, thanks to Daddy Ambitious, get to watch Tyler and Sarah go through a public divorce. The couple, according to Olson’s press team, reached the separation threshold only after “professional support” and “significant discussion.”

Olson apparently has Clinton-esque powers of compartmentalization, though, because he’s still running for governor in 2014. Not too much distraction for this divorcing dad.

“I am still deeply committed to this race for governor, as I believe Iowans will have greater opportunity with a governor with a strong, positive vision for the future,” Olson said in a statement. “Our campaign will continue on in full after the holidays.”

Presumably, when Olson’s campaigning in Sioux City or Ottumwa, his kids will be just fine in Cedar Rapids with their fresh haul from what promises to be a bountiful Christmas. Guilt can make one positively elf-like in December. Who needs Dad around to explain why Dad won’t be around as long as there are enough jelly beans to go around?

If Olson were being honest on his website, he’d add a new introductory photo, one of him gazing approvingly into a mirror — at himself. No blinking, either. He’s so talented, that right now, we need him more than his kids do.

The fierce urgency is now, at age 37. No way, no how, can Olson bow out of a campaign, which has barely started, as most Iowans outside of Linn County couldn’t pick Olson out of a police lineup for a lottery-sized award.

Quick, name one thing Olson has said or done (outside of this divorce business).

Olson’s ambitions have clearly out-raced his reason or any sensibilities he ever had as a father.

As a wise, older colleague in the media observed: Lots of people can be governor of Iowa. Olson’s kids have only one dad.

burns doug 12-10-25The question that jumps to my mind is this: The Democratic primary is in June. Olson is far from a sure thing. He’ll be on the road nearly all the time for the next seven months, meaning he and his wife won’t have to see each other often or be expected to explain why that is. What’s so awful in that marriage that the Olsons (they “remain friends”) can’t wait to initiate divorce until after the primary — or after Tyler loses to Governor Branstad in 11 months?

The biggest elephant in the room with Olson won’t be a Republican. It’s that question. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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