Rud Browne, candidate for the Washington State House
Rud Browne, candidate for the Washington State House

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.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic field alone is impres­sive­ly diverse. In pre­vi­ous installe­ments in this series, we high­light­ed the can­di­da­cies of Alex Ramel and Debra Lekanoff.

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.

He was reelect­ed in 2017 with 81% of the vote.

“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.

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