NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

Democratic State Senator Joe Nguyen launches campaign for King County Executive

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.

Joe Nguyen delivers his campaign kickoff speech

Sur­round­ed by sup­port­ers, Joe Nguyen (D‑34th Dis­trict: West Seat­tle, White Cen­ter, Vashon Island) deliv­ers his cam­paign kick­off speech in Seat­tle (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“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.”

State Senator Joe Nguyen kicks off his campaign for King County Executive

State Sen­a­tor Joe Nguyen con­cludes his remarks announc­ing his can­di­da­cy for King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

Dow Constantine speaking

King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine leads a NO on I‑976 press con­fer­ence in Seat­tle (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Pro­gres­sive Institute)

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.

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