by M. Anthony Davis
Washington State Senator Joe Nguyen announced Tuesday morning that he is running for King County Executive. Senator Nguyen will attempt to unseat incumbent King County Executive Dow Constantine, who has been in office since November 2009.
As a State Senator representing District 34, Nguyen has upheld the progressive platform he campaigned on back in 2019. He has sponsored successful legislation to curtail government use of facial recognition software, an expansion of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and in early 2021 he sponsored SB 5055, which established a statewide roster for arbitrating law enforcement disciplinary grievances and making the records publicly accessible.
Nguyen believes that politics should be about people and not about career advancement. When asked why he has decided to run for King County Executive, Nguyen explains that all of the issues he cares about are happening at the County level. Criminal justice reform, with half of the county’s budget going to law enforcement or transit, which is directly related to climate change, or homelessness — all of these issues can be addressed at the State level, but the boots on the ground are all working within the county. And for Nguyen, King County is home.
Senator Nguyen grew up in White Center. He is the son of refugees. Their family moved to White Center specifically, because it allowed them to access to public housing. “When we were young, we were already poor,” Nguyen explains. “But my dad was in a car accident that left him quadriplegic. In my family’s greatest times of need, this community came out to support us. Literally. My brother and I used to carry my dad up and down the front steps of our house in his wheelchair whenever we had to go out. And our neighbors saw and would ask why we didn’t just build him a ramp. We said couldn’t afford one. So they built one for us. In my greatest time of need and my family’s greatest time of need, this community showed up for us.”
That sense of community is what guides Nguyen as a politician. He is hyper-focused on the needs of community and wants to be closer to community so that he can listen and respond to their needs. When asked about homelessness and his plans to address this issue that is currently affecting our whole region, Nguyen says, “We declared homelessness an emergency about a decade ago, yet we are just now setting up the Regional Council to address homelessness across the jurisdictions.” While he agrees this is the right move, he is upset that there wasn’t more urgency to move on this issue. He believes the current administration has failed to build adequate trust throughout the county to accomplish the regional approach, and he sees this current situation as a microcosm in the overall pitfalls of politics.
“I think one of the problems with politics in general is that you’ll have leaders who make decisions, and their idea of community engagement is just telling that community to make that decision. What we need to foster change is to ensure that we have community at the table, we’re uplifting their voices and their issues, and [we’re] working with them on that policy, so that when we pass something and we do something, their voices are also part of it.”
Nguyen believes that excluding community from the process of decision-making is what leads to distrust of politicians. His solution is to elect someone with actual ties and lived experience in communities to bridge the gap between policy makers and community members. As a White Center native and resident with lived experience of receiving TANF benefits, Nguyen is ready to start the process of regaining trust within the community. He explains that keeping people housed is cheaper than housing them after they’ve become homeless, and he has supported legislation as a State senator to expand TANF benefits for low income families. As King County Executive, he plans to bring in the voices of those affected by homelessness to assist with guiding decision-making moving forward.
Another area where Nguyen plans to uplift community voices is in policing. After the murder of Tommy Le, Nguyen felt compelled to support Le’s family and community. “That really triggered something in me,” Nguyen says of Le’s death. “And the need to help, the need to uplift voices who have been left out. Organizing for Tommy and his family, working with his family to finally get that settlement this past month has been a tremendous honor.”
Nguyen also reached out to community voices when introducing a bill last week that limits the use of “pretext stops.” These stops are prompted by broken taillights, expired tabs, or tinted windows and they lead to negative outcomes in Black and Brown communities, as they recently led to the killing of 20-year-old college student Giovonn Joseph-McDade in Kent. Nguyen recognized that he couldn’t only rely on his own experiences when creating the bill, so he reached out to Joseph-McDade’s mother.
“By having Miss Joseph be part of the conversation and having her son be impacted by this in such a tremendous way — communities need to be heard and their voices needs to be also at the table. That’s how I go about thinking through legislation.”
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
Featured image Joe Nguyen appears at a 2020 rally for Elizabeth Warren by Susan Fried.
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