Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in a series about the candidates vying to succeed Representative Kris Lytton in Washington’s 40th Legislative District.
Voting is underway in Washington’s August Top Two election, with dozens of new candidates vying for open positions in the State Legislature.
In Washington’s 40th Legislative District, where widely respected House Finance Chair Kris Lytton is retiring after many years of service, four Democrats and two Republicans are competing to be elected to the State House. The district includes San Juan County, as well as portions of Whatcom and Skagit Counties.
Today, we take a look at the candidacy of Rud Browne.
After Browne made the decision to run for Lytton’s seat back in the spring, he went to work quickly to build support for his campaign. Within forty days, he had sought and received over two hundred endorsements from organizations, elected officials, and community leaders in support of his House bid.
Browne has an unusual background for a state legislative candidate.
Shortly after his birth in Australia, his father suffered one of four heart attacks that forced the family into poverty due to medical expenses.
Browne’s mother was qualified as an analytical chemist, but at that time, women were not allowed to work in the government jobs she had trained for if they were married. The family subsequently ended up on welfare.
At sixteen, Browne had to leave school and work. His father died the following year and his brother soon after that. Browne went back and finished high school at twenty-three before teaching himself computer programming and working in the computer industry. He then moved to Canada to do consulting work where he met and married his wife. The couple has now lived in Bellingham for twenty-four years.
After many different jobs, Browne’s career took a turn.
“I started a business,” Browne explains, “and the business really took off.”
That business was a sustainable recycling firm called Ryzex that repurposed data collection equipment (for example, barcode scanners). Browne grew the business to three hundred and sixty employees in five countries and proudly notes that it provided family wage jobs with healthcare and family leave. He was responsible for overseeing the company’s eventual $75 million budget.
“If we didn’t make our numbers, it came out of my pocket and nobody else’s,” Browne stated. He believes his experience creating hundreds of good jobs that pay a living wage to Washington families will help him be a good legislator.
Browne also has a history of public service.
In 2011, he sold Ryzex. Two years later, he ran for the Whatcom County Council. He won his race with 52% of the vote, dislodging a Tea Party incumbent.
“What I’m particularly proud of with that one, is not the 81%, it’s that the only way to get [that many votes] was to pick up all the progressive votes and a third of the conservative votes,” he explained. “That demonstrated that I was willing and able to work across the aisle for bipartisan solutions.”
He described that moment as his proudest of 2017, when he realized people of all political persuasions recognized that he was a consensus builder.
Now, after serving on the Whatcom County Council, Browne wants to head to Olympia to take on a new challenge. Having served at the local level, Browne is all too familiar with the constraints that cities, counties, ports, and school districts have to contend with. As subdvisions of the state, they only have the powers and revenue options that the Legislature gives them.
“I don’t think there are a lot of people in the state Legislature that [have] actually worked in city or county government, which means there’s not a lot of people that have actually had to deliver on the decisions that they make at the state capital,” he explained. “But I have.”
Should Browne win, there are many issues he says he would be interested in tackling. One, however, he considers his signature mission and is an issue he believes could be relatively easily fixed with legislation and resources at the state level: Homeless youth and their struggle to gain valid identification.
“Half the homeless U.S. citizen kids can’t get IDs,” Browne says. “So half the kids you drive by, they’re stuck there because they don’t have valid identification and they can’t get it.” He added that this starts a detrimental cycle, where youth engage in “survival crime because it’s the only way to feed themselves,” and then are sent to jail repeatedly and consequently have a criminal record. “We could have stopped the whole cycle if we had given them a way to get identification,” he says.
If you lose your parents and your identification, it’s extremely difficult to establish who you are in the eyes of the law. It’s a systemic problem, and Browne believes he is the only candidate running on it as a signature issue.
“I’ve been quite successful in my life, but I started from a background of poverty,” stated Browne, “and poverty leaves a stain on you that you can’t wash off because it affects your sense of self. It’s very hard to forget.”
He adds that while he may have been successful in business, he has never forgotten where he started from. “I never forget when I look at someone else experiencing poverty… I know how they feel because I’ve been there.”
For Browne, running for office is about giving back.
“I want to go to Olympia, not because I have any aspirations of being a career politician… I’m going simply because I’ve spent most of my life looking for ways to serve the community I live in. I see this as the next opportunity to do that.”
“To me, this is purely a public service role… It’s supposed to be a citizen’s Legislature. It’s supposed to be citizens coming to serve and then allowing others to serve. I’m interested in being a community servant.”
Washington State’s Top Two election ends on August 7th, 2018, when ballots are due back. All ninety-eight positions in the State House of Representatives are being contested along with half of the Senate’s forty-nine positions. If you’re a Washington voter, be sure to get your ballot to a drop box by 8 PM on August 7th or to a post office that day by the last outgoing mail collection time.