State Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, is fresh off his first session in the Capitol, and he has some opinions on what he saw.

That includes lobbyists with puzzling influence and “stupid” ideas, a system designed to kill most bills and a “roast” that took a turn when some colleagues brought up his last name.

On Episode 109 of The Overcast, The Seattle Times’ politics and news podcast, Nguyen gives a rundown of his eye-opening experiences as a rookie lawmaker, and one of the first two Vietnamese Americans to serve in the Legislature.

The 35-year-old Nguyen is the son of refugees and the first person of color to represent the 34th Legislative District, which includes West Seattle, White Center, Burien and Vashon Island.

An energetic Microsoft manager who exudes an air of passionate impatience, he decided to run for office after meeting some legislators while advocating for a community organization.

“I realized that they’re just regular people. I’ll be candid — they’re not special. Some of them I thought … ‘I can’t believe you are here,’ ” he says.


Nguyen was elected last fall, sending him to a Legislature with the biggest Democratic majorities in years. The party wielded its new clout to pass a raft of progressive legislation, including clean-energy and climate bills, higher taxes and more spending on education and mental health. Also approved was a bill Nguyen sponsored that will allow the vacation of 68,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions.

Yet Nguyen is among progressive Democrats frustrated that they couldn’t do even more, such as passing a tax on capital-gains income, or funding a long-sought “working families tax credit” to rebate taxes paid by lower-income Washingtonians.

As Democrats nationally fret over whether to appeal to Trump voters and moderates or go full democratic socialist in 2020, Nguyen leaves no question on his stance. He says go big or go home.

“I think incrementalism is really what’s killing the Democratic Party,” he says. “I am personally tired of the moderation that has to happen down there in the name of getting reelected.”

Also covered in the podcast:

  • The death of Nguyen’s bill to allow Seattle to use automated cameras to ticket cars illegally blocking bus lanes.
  • Why he was surprised at the “mediocrity” of lobbyists who seem to wield undue influence in the Capitol.
  • How he handled the “roast” featuring some clumsy mockery of his common Vietnamese last name.
  • The secret behind his four-hour-a-night sleep schedule. Hint: “Zipfizz.”

The episode was recorded at the Seattle studios of public radio 88.5 FM KNKX.

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