Declaring that “politics should be about people, not careers,” the 34th Legislative District’s Democratic State Senator Joe Nguyen today officially launched his campaign for King County Executive, the top elected position in Washington State’s most populous jurisdiction: Martin Luther King Jr. County.
Nguyen’s entrance into the race had been expected: the first-term state senator, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has been reaching out to Democratic activists and progressive leaders for weeks to advise them of his intentions.
With the legislative session having adjourned Sine Die on Sunday, Nguyen is turning his attention to his campaign, which seeks to offer King County voters an alternative to incumbent Executive Dow Constantine’s leadership.
Here’s his announcement video:
Constantine, fifty-nine, was first elected Executive in 2009, defeating Republican Susan Hutchison, a former KIRO TV anchor. Hutchison went on to become Washington State Republican Party Chair and then unsuccessfully challenged Maria Cantwell for Senate in 2018. A fanatical Trump booster, Hutchison was present during the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol.
After handily defeating Hutchison during the midst of the Great Recession, Constantine sought reelection to a second term in 2013 and then a third in 2017 with no credible opposition, having successfully steered King County around some very difficult shoals with the help of former 2009 campaign rival Fred Jarrett, who joined Constantine’s team as Deputy County Executive.
Constantine announced last autumn that he would be seeking a fourth term.
“Our communities face unprecedented short and long-term challenges as this crisis impacts our health, quality of life, and economy,” said Constantine in a November 16th, 2020 statement. “Working alongside our nationally renowned public health experts and specialists across the region, we will fight this pandemic, implement a vaccination plan, and save lives. And we will use this unprecedented moment to rebuild and create a fairer, more just society.”
Nguyen contends that now is the perfect time for new leadership and fresh thinking. Together with a group of his supporters, he made the case for change in a speech delivered at Seattle’s Hing Hay Park just before noon today.
“Today, too many people are struggling to get by,” Nguyen said.
“In order to adjust to the challenges of today, we need leadership that reflects the urgency of this moment. Politics should be about people, not careers.”
“And it’s increasingly clear that government run by transactional politicians [does] not serve communities. Decisions from the top down are easy, but they do not solve real and systemic problems. Engaging communities, being mindful of the people you serve, having the courage to change systems on behalf of the people you work for: that’s good governing. And I’m here to do the work. That work requires imagination, listening, trust, and knowing when to let the people lead.”
“Every day, at every level, we’re asking ourselves: how do we re-imagine a world that better serves people and communities? The work is difficult, and without humility, it is impossible,” Nguyen added. “This pandemic has revealed what so many of us already knew: our systems are broken. But rather than despair, I am filled with hope. By laying bare the inequities found in every facet of our societal structures, we are presented with a once in a generational opportunity to right the errors of the past, and create a New Deal for King County.”
Nguyen and Constantine have a lot in common.
Both hold strong progressive convictions and support sensible policy directions like expanding mass transit. Both live in West Seattle and either have or currently do represent the 34th Legislative District in the Washington State Legislature.
That means that not only are they neighbors, they represent each other. Constantine is Nguyen’s constituent, and Nguyen is Constantine’s constituent.
That’s hardly their only political link.
When Constantine was in the Legislature, decades ago, prior to getting into local politics, Nguyen was one of his pages. Nowadays, the thirty-seven year old Nguyen works at Redmond-based Microsoft as a senior program manager.
Though they share many similarities, there are some aspects of their political thinking that differ. Nguyen has spoken critically (and did so again today) of the county’s construction of a new youth detention facility, arguing that money could have been better spent investing in alternatives to incarceration.
Nguyen also points out that under Constantine’s watch, King County has struggled to figure out how to successfully house people who are homeless, despite having declared homelessness an emergency half a decade ago.
Nguyen is also an unabashed supporter of permanently eliminating fares on our buses and trains, thus making transit free to ride for everybody. (This is a policy direction that NPI and many other transit advocates strongly support.)
Should Nguyen and Constantine win the Top Two election, King County voters will have an unprecedented choice in the November runoff between two Democratic candidates who hold progressive ideals and espouse progressive policy directions. It would be a matchup like none we’ve seen for this office before, and would be the latest evidence yet that the Republican Party is all but extinct in King County.
(Officially, King County Executive is a “nonpartisan” office, but both Constantine and Nguyen identify as Democrats, and with the notable exception of the judiciary, which is governed by a set of canons that don’t apply to legislative or executive positions, the notion of “nonpartisan” offices is a fiction.)
Nguyen’s path to victory won’t be easy. While David Hackney, Girmay Zahilay, and Sam Cho have proven that well known political figures within King County can be defeated for state and local office, expect Constantine to bring plenty of energy to his reelection campaign in addition to his experience.
Constantine is a firm believer in partybuilding and leadership development.
Before and throughout his time as Executive, he has consistently shown up to help progressive candidates build their campaigns, whether helping the Fantastic Four prevail in Burien or helping Manka Dhingra win in the 45th.
He’s done the same for progressive organizations, including this one.
Memorably, he was one of the elected officials present at NPI’s very first Spring Fundraising Gala in May of 2008, and has been sponsoring NPI’s research and advocacy — including our journalism here on the Cascadia Advocate — for years.
Constantine also spoke at NPI’s first post-recession gala in June of 2010 and NPI’s very first Summer Anniversary Picnic in August of 2013.
Like our team, he has been a stalwart opponent of Tim Eyman’s destructive initiatives. King County was among the plaintiffs that successfully sued to have Eyman’s I‑976 declared unconstitutional after the 2019 election.
In addition, Constantine has strong name recognition and an extensive track record to run on, along with a long list of early endorsements, which his campaign touted again today. (Those endorsements include Governor Jay Inslee, MLK Labor, and most of Nguyen’s State Senate colleagues from King County.)
NPI does not endorse candidates or engage in electioneering for or against any candidate. Consequently, we will not back either candidate’s campaign.
Free, fair, and contested elections are a key characteristic of a healthy democracy. In stepping forward to challenge Dow Constantine for a fourth term, Joe Nguyen is ensuring that voters will have a choice between at least two caring, credible candidates for King County Executive this year. We look forward to bringing you additional coverage of this important race and analyzing the candidates’ ideas and priorities in the weeks and months between now and Election Day.